Treating for bed bugs in multi-unit housing facilities can be challenging for pest management professionals (PMPs). Infestations are common because bed bugs easily spread to adjacent units or common areas. Often, tenants live with the pests because they believe they will be evicted or cannot afford pest control, and the bed bugs spread to other units.
Additionally, many state laws have fault-based standards that allow for parties to attribute fault regarding pest infestations, however it is incredibly difficult to impossible to determine where bed bugs came from — ask any entomologist.
“Without clarity for bed bug infestations, most state laws actually encourage infestations,” says Jake Plevelich, the National Pest Management Association’s director of public policy. “However, state legislators are stepping up to protect their constituents with these effective, science-based policies that recognize the professional pest control industry as a private-sector solution to this public health problem.”
EXISTING, PROPOSED LEGISLATION
In Colorado and Maine, laws already are on the books that stipulate a landlord must pay for a licensed professional to inspect and treat for bed bugs in most circumstances. In Connecticut, the law states that if a landlord provides treatment, a PMP must verify the bed bugs have been eliminated, ensuring the treatment worked and preventing infestations.
Bed bug legislation is expected to be proposed in several states, including Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington, Plevelich says.
COLORADO LAW AS MODEL
In Michigan, legislation has been introduced thanks to a grassroots campaign led by State Policy Affair Representative (SPAR) Bill Welsh, ACE, Rose Pest Solutions, Kalamazoo, Mich., and the members of the Michigan Pest Management Association. The proposed law is based on Colorado’s, which the National Black Caucus of State Legislators selected as Model Legislation at its 44th Annual Legislative Conference. It went into effect in 2019, and facilitates a smoother process for managing bed bugs in landlord-tenant housing for all parties involved.
It’s a win-win. Tenants can expect successful treatment results without fear of retaliation for reporting bed bugs. Landlords can protect property values and reputation if word gets out their multi-unit housing facilities are bed-bug free.
Research shows legislation like this reduces the prevalence of bed bugs and lowers the number of evictions. A 2020 research report titled “Socioeconomic Drivers of Urban Pest Prevalence,” published by the British Ecological Society, studied multi-unit housing in Chicago neighborhoods. A city ordinance there required landlords to hire PMPs for bed bug inspections and treatments. In addition, it required tenants to provide access to their units and cooperate when asked to prepare for treatment. The research concluded the “prevalence of bed bugs has declined and remained relatively low, which is consistent with the desired impacts of [the] ordinance.”
It’s important to note the legislation enacted and proposed does not blame anyone — tenant or landlord — for bed bug infestations. Fault-based standard laws that stipulate the person who brought bed bugs into a unit is responsible for treatment are ineffective because it’s nearly impossible to prove where the pests originated. While landlords and tenants argue whether a maintenance employee brought them in or they came from the unit next door, the infestation spreads throughout the building.
PMPs can do their part to help get bed bug legislation on the books. They can participate in grassroots campaigns that advocate for the passage of bed bug bills that have been proposed. They also can offer their expertise to legislators seeking information about bed bug biology and behavior.
PMPs who would like to see similar state legislation in their markets should contact their SPAR or Plevelich at firstname.lastname@example.org.