A tenant complains about bed bugs. Yikes! The thought of tiny, blood-sucking parasites scuttling around your rental property is a nightmare. Fear not! There are many things a property owner can do to fight back at the terror of bed bugs, and several ways to prevent a bed bug crisis.

As a landlord, what does the law require you to do?

Under sections 341.011 and 341.012 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, bed bugs are considered a public health nuisance, and individuals in possession of real property must remove a public health nuisance “as soon as the person knows that the nuisance exists.”

If a bed bug problem persists for whatever reason without treatment and a tenant reports an infestation to local health authorities, a landlord then faces a series of potential legal issues. The Texas Health and Safety Code mandates that a report of bed bugs to authorities results in notice given to the landlord requiring the treatment and removal of the pests in a designated amount of time, and failure to do so allows immediate initiation of lawsuits against the landlord by local prosecutors.

In addition, sections 341.091 and 341.092 detail the criminal and civil consequences a landlord could be held responsible for if found to be in violation of the chapter, including a criminal misdemeanor, civil penalties, fines, and additional civil suits.

An infestation that is out of control and difficult to treat can make matters worse for landlords, because each day the problem continues is considered a separate offense and violation of the code. The end result could be financially devastating, with several charges and fines, on top of costly and time-consuming treatments to actually exterminate the bed bugs.

Texas landlords are also held responsible under the Implied Warranty of Habitability, which requires the physical health and safety of a rented residence to be up to a certain standard. Simply put, landlords must provide tenants with a safe and healthy living environment, and the presence of bed bugs are neither safe, nor healthy.

In addition to what the law requires, what else should you do?

It is common to execute a bed bug addendum along with a lease, which often confirms the landlord has inspected the premises and no bed bugs are present at the time of move in. The addendums usually hold both the landlord and tenant accountable for inspecting the premises and timely reporting any signs of a possible infestation, and may or may not include requirements for reporting or treatment policies.

The Texas Apartment Association (TAA) lease requires reporting of health hazards by tenants, and compliance with safety standards by landlords. The TAA bed bug addendum requires tenants to inspect and disclose if they previously lived in a location that had bed bugs, while detailing the reporting requirements and payment responsibilities in the event of an infestation.

The TAA lease also provides a guide to give tenants when signing the addendum on how to inspect and prevent infestations, and the 2016-2017 TAA Redbook provides further guidance for dealing with bed bugs on page 540. If you do not currently use the TAA lease or bed bug addendum, read your current addendum and determine if it includes all of the terms and policies that you want to be legally binding under the contract.

Although the TAA addendum notifies tenants that they may be responsible for all cleaning, treatment, and replacement costs, try not to force a tenant to pay for extermination or treatment. It’s often difficult to determine the source that brought the bed bugs into the property, and experts recommend landlords cover the costs to ensure effective treatment and maintain successful relationships with tenants.

Additionally, if any issues arise and part of your property is subsidized, be aware that the Federal Housing and Urban Development agencies enforce guidelines prohibiting landlords from charging tenants in subsidized housing any costs for bed bug treatments.

However, if a tenant fails to report bed bugs in a timely manner after discovering, or even causing, an infestation, this could be considered a breach of lease under the bed bug addendum, and a landlord would be able to evict.

Landlords should form a clear and consistent plan for implementing policies to address bed bugs and other pests. Plan, prevent, and protect your property. These plans should include steps taken prior to any report of bed bugs, as well as steps taken after an infestation occurs. In Texas, pest control services at apartments and hotels must be done by a licensed pest control operator.

We hope this information is helpful; however, please note it is provided for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. We recommend you contact an attorney regarding the particular circumstances of your case.