"If you just discovered that your apartment has bed bugs, you’re probably dreading telling your landlord. That’s a completely understandable reaction — but you need to tell them as soon as possible to protect yourself from legal liability further down the line. In this article, we explain exactly how to tell your landlord you have a bedbug problem and what you should (and shouldn’t!) say."
table of contents
- What to Do Before Notifying Your Landlord About Bed Bugs
- How to Tell Your Landlord
- Why Tell Your Landlord
- What to Include in Your Letter or Email
- Sample Email or Letter
What to do Before Notifying Your Landlord of a Bed Bug Infestation
Although you should notify your landlord promptly, you may want to take a few steps to protect yourself first.
Check Your Lease and Your Legal Rights as a Tenant
Before you do anything else, check your lease and your local bed bug-related laws. It’s (unfortunately) common for landlords to blame their tenants for bed bugs and make them pay for an exterminator or even try to evict them.
There might be provisions in your lease or local laws that will protect you; see our page on Tenant Rights to learn how to research this.
Capture a Specimen
The more evidence you can arm yourself with, the better. If possible, catch a couple of bed bugs and store them in a sealed plastic bag. You’ll need them if your landlord tries to deny that there’s a problem (or ignores you outright.)
After you notify your landlord, they’ll probably need to visit your unit to inspect the problem. If your apartment is on the messier side, take a few minutes to clean it up first.
It doesn’t have to be spotless, but you should at least get rid of any obvious piles of clutter (which is something you’d end up having to do as part of the extermination process anyway). Having bed bugs doesn’t reflect on your hygiene or personal tidiness — they can hitchhike into any apartment, no matter how clean — but they do like to hide in clutter.
More importantly, people associate them with uncleanliness. If your place is messy, your landlord might be more likely to try and blame you for the infestation. It’s all about protecting yourself.
How to Tell Your Landlord About Your Bed Bug Problem
Once you’ve taken the chance to tidy up and you feel confident that you know your rights, it’s time to tell your landlord. You’re going to want to do so in writing — in other words, via email.
If you want, you can send a physical letter instead, but an email is better because it’s faster and automatically leaves an electronic record. If you send a letter, drop it directly in their mailbox so that they get it right away, and be sure to save a copy for your records.
When you write the email, you want to follow a few guidelines.
- Be prompt
You should tell your landlord as soon as possible (right after taking the steps outlined above) so that you can deal with the problem before it spreads to other units.
As we said, this isn’t just about being a good neighbor. You want to be able to prove later that you did everything you could to contain the situation and weren’t negligent in any way.
- Be polite
This can be difficult if you suspect your landlord is at fault for your bed bug problem — for instance, if they withheld information about a previous infestation when you signed the lease. However, losing your temper doesn’t help. You need to stay polite so that you can work together to come up with a solution.
- Don’t admit fault.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but if you think you actually might be responsible for your bed bug infestation, don’t say that! In fact, don’t speculate on the cause of the infestation at all. Stick to the facts. (This might make your letter quite short, which is fine.)
In fact, we suggest staying far away from the words “I’m sorry.” This can be hard if you’re a compulsive people-pleaser — and you are, we sympathize! — but try to remember that “being polite” isn’t the same as “being apologetic.” It might be perfectly obvious to you that you meant “Sorry to the bearer of bad news,” but your landlord (or their attorney) might interpret it as “I’m sorry for causing this situation.”
The right tone to strike isn’t apologetic or accusatory — it’s professional. Imagine that you’re at work and you discover that somebody made a major accounting error that could cost your company lots of money. When you tell your boss about it, you presumably won’t trip over yourself apologizing (because, after all, it wasn’t your error). Instead, you’ll calmly outline the situation and explain the steps you’re going to take to resolve it.
You want to take the same approach here. This attitude lets you subtly communicate to your landlord that you’re willing to work with them, but you also won’t be pushed around.
Why Do I Need to Tell My Landlord in Writing?
It’s important to tell your landlord in writing so that you have clear documentation that:
- Indicates when you noticed the problem
- Proves that you addressed it right away
This makes it harder for your landlord to claim that you were negligent in your response to the bed bug outbreak, which protects you from legal liability.
What if I trust my landlord?
Even if you trust your landlord and are sure they wouldn’t try to hold you responsible (e.g., because they’re a relative or family friend), it’s still important to have written documentation in case you need to provide it to other parties in the future.
For instance, if other tenants claim that bed bugs spread from your unit to theirs, you need to be able to prove that you did everything you could to contain the situation. You might also need to provide documentation to your insurance company if you file a bed-bug-related claim. (Renters insurance usually doesn’t cover bed bugs, but a few smaller insurers do.)
What to Include in the Letter to Your Landlord?
Follow these steps when you write the letter or email:
- At the top of the letter, clearly date it.
- In the first sentence, state your name and which rental unit you live in.
- Say that earlier today (repeat the current date, and be clear that it was the same day), you discovered bed bugs in your unit.
- Indicate how you became aware of them (i.e., you noticed them in your bed, or you woke up with bites and investigated).
- Then, say that you’d like to meet with your landlord to discuss your next steps, such as hiring an exterminator.
- Politely ask your landlord to reply acknowledging that they’ve received your letter.
- Lastly, sign off with something like “Thank you” or “Sincerely.”
Again, try to be brief. Only write what you absolutely have to.
Citing Your Local Laws
If you think your landlord might try to hold you responsible, or might ignore your letter instead of dealing with the problem, consider citing relevant laws or ordinances to strengthen your position.
For example, you might write something like:
“According to [law name], as the landlord, it is your responsibility to have the unit investigated within 5 days and, if bed bugs are discovered, hire a licensed pest management company within 10 days to provide extermination services until the infestation is completely eliminated from this and all adjacent units.”
The wording of that depends entirely on your local laws, so you might want to consult with an attorney or your city’s Public Health Department before including it.
This step might not be necessary if you trust your landlord to act quickly and not to try to blame you for the infestation. Again, check your lease: it might outline your landlord’s expectations and responsibilities.
If they seem like they’re in line with what the law says, backing up your letter with legal muscle might not be necessary. (It’s pretty aggressive, and might make your landlord feel defensive, which you want to avoid if you can help it.)
Sample Email Informing Your Landlord of a Bed Bug Problem
Subject: Possible bed bug infestation in [apartment number]
I, [your name], am writing this to notify you that today, [current date], I became aware of a possible bed bug infestation in my unit ([apartment number] at [address]). I investigated the issue after waking up with bite marks and saw several of what I believe to be bed bugs. Immediately afterward, I wrote this email to inform you of the problem.
I would like to arrange a call or a meeting with you so that we can take steps to investigate and address this by securing the services of a licensed exterminator. Please reply to this as soon as possible acknowledging that you’ve received it.