Renting and the law: Who pays for bedbug removal?

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • Updated: August 3, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Q: I own a triplex in south Minneapolis and have excellent renters who have been in their apartment for 10 months. I got a call from one of them saying that she thinks she has bedbugs and has had symptoms for about two weeks. The bugs appear to be in her room only.

My question is: Who should be responsible for paying for this? It doesn’t seem like I should be responsible for covering the expense because it clearly was not an issue when my renter moved in. I could understand covering the expense of extermination of other rodents, but I view bedbugs in the same category as lice, and I would never think of paying for lice treatment.

A: There is no specific Minnesota state law or statute that relates to bedbugs. However, since your building is located in Minneapolis, the city has an ordinance that addresses the issue of pests and their removal.

The ordinance states that every owner of a dwelling consisting of two or more units is responsible for the extermination of insects, rodents, vermin or other pests on the premises. So, if a tenant’s apartment or unit is in Minneapolis, the landlord is responsible to cover the expense. A landlord still may hold the tenant responsible for treating the units, but the landlord is most likely going to have to pay the expense initially.

Minnesota law requires the landlord to keep the building in reasonable repair, except when the disrepair has been caused by the willful, malicious or irresponsible conduct of the tenant or a person under the direction or control of the tenant, such as a friend or visitor.

Therefore, state law only allows landlords to charge tenants for the cost of exterminating bedbugs if the landlord is able to prove that the pests appeared because of the tenants.

Some landlords have a clause in their lease that requires the tenant to cover the expense of extermination, so check your lease for this type of language.

You should contact a pest-control company to investigate and try to figure out the cause of the infestation. If you have proof your tenant caused the infestation, then it is likely you can hold the tenant responsible for covering the expense.

Without proof of who caused the bedbug infestation, then the landlord or owner is typically responsible for covering the removal expense.

Bedbugs are appearing in many buildings now, making it difficult to prove where they originated. A pest-control company could help determine the cause, then you and your tenant could go from there in determining who pays for exterminating the bugs.

Finally, you definitely want the bedbugs removed from the unit, so it is best to go ahead and start the process so the issue can be resolved as soon as possible.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to kklein@kleinpa.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.

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