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Bedbugs in Apartments: Whose Problem Is It?

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By Matt Butner - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It seems bed bugs are moving in everywhere these days, grabbing headlines and invading homes in record numbers.

There's no doubt the problem is getting worse, and it's not an easy problem to solve. For landlords and tenants, the question often becomes-- whose problem is it?

The trouble started for Cheryl Stout in her Chesterfield apartment back in March.

"All of these purple spots here are scars back from the early times," she said, pointing to several spots on her arm.

For six months, the bed bugs continued to bite. For six months, Cheryl scratched and clawed her way toward a resolution.

"I had mentioned something at one point about getting bit to the girls at the office at the complex- they said they would have somebody spray," she said.

That sounds simple, but bed bugs don't go away easily.

"To get rid of them, it requires a very thorough job," said David Gaines, a public health entomologist for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He prefers the title "bug guy."

David has taken notice of the spike in bed bug infestations. His office fields more calls about the creatures now than ever before. But besides give advice, there's not much he can do.

"From a classic point of view, they're not a disease carrier, so they're not really a public health insect," said Gaines.

"I suppose you could say they cause problems with mental health," he added.

Cheryl would certainly agree.

"A fly lands on me, and I'm freaking," she said. "My nerves are on edge."

So in a case like Cheryl's, with an infested apartment, what is the best course of action to take?

"Not paying your rent, withholding your rent is a huge mistake. It is a surefire ticket to eviction," said Martin Wegbreit with Central Virginia Legal Aid.

Wegbreit says that's an all too common mistake. But, he says, it is the landlord's responsibility to take care of bed bugs in most cases. He cites the code of Virginia.

"It's the landlord's responsibility to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition- and habitable, I would say, is bug and pest free," said Wegbreit.

There are three steps any tenant must take when filing a complaint about bed bugs or any other issue.

  • First, stay current with rent payments.
  • Second, give written notice to your landlord.
  • Third, wait a reasonable period of time for your landlord to respond.

After six months, Cheryl had waited long enough. She moved out of her apartment near the end of her lease.

"I couldn't live here and continue to get eaten," she explained.

Management had arranged for a pest control company to treat Cheryl's apartment, including most of her furniture, which would end up in her new place. The treatment, Cheryl soon found, was almost as disruptive as the bugs.

"I have packed my entire apartment- my whole life- into resealable plastic bags," she said. "You have to turn your life upside down."

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