Call the exterminator – who’s responsible for ridding a rental property of bedbugs?

If there is one word that everyone in the residential rental market hates, it is “bedbugs.” Over the past few years bedbug outbreaks have become more common as the pests are notoriously difficult to fully exterminate. Bedbugs can live for months, even up to a year, without food and they can hide in small crevasses in clothing or furniture to escape the chemicals exterminators use to kill them. For these reasons, bedbugs often become a long-term disruption for both the landlord and the tenants.

Sections 20 and 22 of the Residential Tenancies Act have been interpreted by the Courts as saying that the landlord is responsible for ensuring that the bedbugs are dealt with swiftly and properly. This means that the landlord is responsible for calling and paying for an exterminator. It also often means that the landlord is responsible for paying for any costs that the tenant incurs as a result of the extermination, such as laundry.

In addition to bearing the costs of the extermination, the landlord is also often required to grant a rent abatement to the tenants suffering from a bedbug outbreak, even if the tenant themselves caused the outbreak. Rent abatements are justified through the idea that if the tenant did not receive 100% of the enjoyment of the property, he or she should not be responsible for 100% of the cost of rent. The key in determining whether or not a rent abatement is appropriate is the timeliness and efficiency of the landlord’s actions in addressing the outbreak.

Due to the disruptive nature of bedbugs, any delay or deficiency in treatment may result in a rent abatement, even if the landlord is not at fault for the delay or deficiency. Moreover, even if the landlord acts immediately in hiring an exterminator and taking all precautions to address the bedbug outbreak, the tenant may still be entitled to a rent abatement if the outbreak is not resolved in a few weeks.

Fortunately for the landlords, rent abatements can only be granted after the point at which the tenant informed the landlord of the bedbug situation. For instance, if a tenant thought that she or he had bedbugs from June to August, but only told the landlord in September, then the landlord would only be responsible for a rent abatement from September onwards. Moreover, rent abatements may be neutralized if the tenant has not fully prepared the unit for the bedbug treatment, thereby causing the bedbug outbreak to continue.

Most landlords do not grant rent abatements themselves, but rather wait for the tenant to bring an action against them at the Landlord Tenant Board (the “Board”). Once in front of the Board, however, the tenant will almost certainly receive a rent abatement unless their behaviour negated the landlord’s efforts to deal with the situation in a material way.

Rent abatement can fall anywhere between 5% and 100% of rent for the relevant periods of time. Most of the time, however, the rent abatements fall between 20% and 30% of the overall rent for the period in question.

In summary, the landlord bears almost all of the responsibility and costs in ridding the rental units from bedbugs. Moreover, if the landlord does not act promptly or effectively, he or she may also be required to grant the tenant a rent abatement. Given this responsibility, a landlord should always take quick and thorough action when dealing with a bedbug outbreak in order to minimize their potential loss of rent.

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Jennifer Therrien Jennifer Cox