Can I Sue my Landlord for Bed Bugs in my Apartment?
Bed bugs are every tenant's nightmare. They are disgusting, hard to get rid of and are extremely uncomfortable, even dangerous from a medical standpoint. Having them is an absolute ordeal, but if you are renting your apartment, and your landlord is liable, you can sue for damages. Before filing a lawsuit, though, you need to determine whether the landlord is truly responsible for the bed bug infestation. Also, you need to know under what circumstances would a landlord be liable for a bed bug infestation.
Let's take a closer look at this legal issue and how you can take the battle against bed bugs to court:
Determine the liability
There are two main issues with the liability. Firstly, you'll have to determine who is legally responsible for exterminating bedbugs and, secondly, you'll have to know if, in your jurisdiction, you can sue for damages your landlord.
1. On the first issue, the answer depends on the area you live in. Some states or counties in the United States impose a duty on landlords to keep their properties free of pests, but some don't have any rules regarding pests. Even though some states specifically say what type of insect or rodent is considered a pest, there are other states which use a more general language, leaving room for speculation and interpretation. Florida, for instance, specifies a duty to exterminate bed bugs for all landlords.
2. When it comes to the actual lawsuit and what you have to do, there are some things you need to follow:
Check your lease agreement
Even if your state or county doesn't have a special pest control law, your lease agreement should have a section regarding pest extermination. Generally, the tenant must cooperate, allowing multiple visits by an exterminator. Keep in mind that some lease agreements stipulate that a landlord only kicks in when multiple housing units are infested. Typically, no matter the lease agreements, if you suffer from a bed bug infestation, you can sue the landlord.
What to sue the landlord for?
The law stipulates that a tenant can sue the landlord for “constructive eviction”, a term that basically means that your landlord is so negligent that you are forced to evict yourself from the housing unit. To succeed, you'll have to prove that the living conditions are so appalling that the home is uninhabitable and your landlord is responsible for the situation. In this case, you can sue for damages.
Suing the landlord for a loss of habitability
The loss of habitability refers to a situation where the “habitability factor” of a housing unit was affected by a bed bug infestation. Simply put, your living conditions were affected, to a certain degree, by a bed bug infestation. In this case, you can sue the landlord for a percentage of your total rent. That is usually the type of financial remedy people ask (people may receive 30 to 60 percent of their rent). In 2003, a federal court in Chicago awarded a tenant $190,000 in damages for a single night spent in a bed bug infested motel room.
While bed bugs can be a terrible nuisance, both from a hygiene and legal standpoint, your landlord might not always be to blame for the situation. Generally, your landlord will try his or her best to keep pests away, so a bed bug infestation might only occasionally happen. What is important to know is the fact that you can sue him or her, depending on your situation. Just make sure you contact a legal advisor, such as David Heil, or an attorney before filing a lawsuit.