How to survive if your landlord refuses to pay for bedbug treatment

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This little guy is gonna cost you bank. Photo by Becca van Sambeck

2:30 AM. That was the time I woke up every morning, like I was the main victim being haunted in an exorcism movie. However, the reason I was waking up in the middle of night was because of a threat far scarier to a New Yorker than your average vengeful demon. I couldn’t sleep because I was being tormented by the most psychologically scarring bloodsuckers around: bedbugs.

Getting bedbugs is that classic New York nightmare you assume happens all the time, but think will NEVER happen to you, like getting mugged on the subway or being forced to attend a birthday party at Brother Jimmy’s. But then one day you wake up with a row of four itchy red bumps on your leg and dismiss it as the work of a particularly starving mosquito. And then it happens again. And again. It took me a week to surrender and contact my landlord to bring in an inspector. I was scratching myself raw, covered in rows of bites, barely sleeping and feeling tiny, imaginary bugs crawling all over me. I knew before the inspector even walked through the door that there were bedbugs in my room and was prepared to have my worst fear come true. So, you can imagine my surprise when he took a quick look around and declared the apartment was bedbug-free.

There was no relief with this verdict. Instead, I immediately called Terminex. They sent someone over promptly, and what do you know: My room really was bedbug-free. Instead, our couch was the culprit. One of the cushions was covered in tiny white eggs – the bugs, like any good horror movie villain, were where I least expected them, making a home and raising a family in the living room the whole time. Yikes. And while Terminex offered a free inspection, I was informed the cost of treatment would be a couple thousand dollars. Damn.


Becca's bedbug bites. Photo by Rebecca van Sambeck
Becca’s bedbug bites. Photo by Becca van Sambeck

That’s the problem with bedbugs: Not only do they cause immense psychological terror and unsightly red sores, but it’s super expensive to get them out once they’re in. All those dollar signs were what was really haunting me now, but my roommates and I realized it was our landlord’s responsibility – and really, in his best interests — to pay for our bedbug removal process. Of course, that’s not what he thought when we contacted him. He pointed out that our lease specifically said if tenants are found responsible for bringing in bedbugs, they must pay for the removal. Suddenly, my landlord had ripped off his mask and revealed himself as the true villain in this horror movie. So, who’s right in this dispute?

Well, according to New York law, we 100 percent were. If a landlord refuses to pay to get rid of bedbugs, that’s illegal. You have the right to a bedbug-free environment, according to New York City’s Housing and Maintenance Code (Subchapter 2, Article 4). The code names bedbugs in a list of insects landlords are legally obligated to eradicate. Plus, the city’s Department of Housing Prevention and Development lists bedbugs as a Class B violation, which means they’re considered hazardous and the landlord has to remove them within 30 days.

The law makes it very clear it’s your landlord’s responsibility to get rid of these cursed creatures. If your landlord refuses to pay, let him or her know you’re aware of your rights. We did exactly that, and let our landlord know we’d seek legal counsel if necessary. Resultantly, the dispute was dropped, and we were off the hook for paying. If your landlord calls your bluff, you can secure a tenant lawyer if necessary.


The bedbug bites of Becca. Photo by Rebecca van Sambeck
The bedbug bites of Becca. Photo by Becca van Sambeck

Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that you’re basically at your landlord’s mercy when it comes to treatment options. You can imagine my dismay when I greeted the inspector for our treatment, only to discover it was the same guy who completely missed the infestation in the first place. And while our bedbug issue was eventually solved (after several weeks of treatments), it was difficult not to wonder if we would’ve solved the issue quicker with a better treatment method. If you want to try a different remedy or a well-known company, it’s your choice to suck it up and pay for it.

The most important takeaway, though, is to always know your renters’ rights. For example, did you know a landlord is legally obligated to disclose if a building has had a bedbug infestation in the last year? Yeah, there’s all kinds of rights you have you may not be aware of, which is why it’s key to look these things up and know what you’re entitled to. And for the love of God, if you wake up with a line of bug bites, don’t wait for them to turn your couch into a cozy love shack. Call your landlord for help ASAP, and check out this website for further guidance.

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