Bed bugs are not particularly mentioned in Virginia law. The law does not specify who is responsible for getting rid of bed bugs: landlords or tenants. All landlords in Virginia are required by law to obey all construction and housing rules that influence health and safety, as well as to perform all necessary repairs to keep the property fit and habitable. Bed bugs make rental homes uninhabitable, thus it’s usually the landlord’s responsibility to get rid of them.
Is this a requirement for all tenants?
A tenant is required to accomplish three things under Virginia Code sections 55-248.16 and 55-225.4.
◦ Comply with all requirements affecting health and safety that are principally imposed on renters by applicable provisions of building and housing codes.
◦ Keep the area the renter occupies free of insects and pests.
◦ Contact the landlord immediately if any insects or pests are found.
Is this to say that the tenant is responsible for eradicating bed bugs?
No, according to Virginia law – 55-248.16(A)(14) and 55-225.4(A)(14) – “The tenant shall be financially responsible for any additional treatment or extermination costs incurred as a result of the tenant’s unreasonable delay in reporting the existence of any insects or pests, as well as the cost of treatment or extermination incurred as a result of the tenant’s fault in failing to prevent infestation of any insects or pests in the occupied area.”
What does it mean when you say “tenant’s fault”?
Under Virginia law, “fault” refers to the tenant’s failure to perform a duty that he or she is obligated to perform, and is nearly synonymous with negligence.
Is this new legislation applicable to all tenants?
Yes. This new law has been in effect since July 1, 2018, and it applies to all tenants. If you pay rent on a regular basis, such as once a month or once a week, you are considered a tenant. If you’ve been in a hotel or motel for more than 90 days, or if you’ve signed a written lease for more than 90 days, you’re a tenant. If you have stayed in a hotel or motel for fewer than 90 days, you are not a tenant.
Only in two cases is a tenant accountable for the cost of treatment.
◦ Additional treatment or extermination costs incurred as a result of the tenant’s unreasonable delay in reporting the presence of insects or pests.
◦ The cost of treatment or extermination as a result of the tenant’s failure to prevent bug or pest infestation.
So, can a landlord charge a renter for bed bug treatment?
Many landlords are unaware of the rules and assume they can charge renters for bed insect treatment in any circumstance. There is no legal authority that authorizes a landlord to demand a tenant to pay for bed bug treatment in any other case than the two stated above. The landlord cannot enforce anything in the lease that states contrary against the renter.
What should a renter do if the expense of bed bug treatment is billed to them?
If a landlord charges a renter for bed bug treatment, the tenant should not disregard the bill. The renter should respond to the landlord in writing. Because the tenant is not responsible for the expense of bed bug treatment, the letter should state that the tenant denies owing the amount. The letter should also state that no future payments to the landlord (rent or otherwise) will be applied to the expense of bed bug treatment.
Furthermore, when the tenant makes future payments to the landlord (rent or otherwise), the tenant should include a letter with each payment. The letter should specify how the funds will be used (for example, for July rent).
The letter should also state that no part of the money will be allocated to the cost of bed bug treatment. Finally, if the landlord initiates a lawsuit against the tenant for failing to pay for bed bug treatment, the tenant should seek legal counsel immediately.
What responsibilities do landlords have when it comes to bed bugs?
A landlord is required to do two things under Virginia Code sections 55-248.13 and 55-225.3.
◦ Make all repairs and do everything is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition, in accordance with any building and housing rules affecting health and safety.