The state of Maryland faces a bed bug crisis. Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood. They do not spread diseases, but their bites cause painful, itchy skin lesions. Some people have allergic reactions to bed bug saliva and, in a severe infestation, bed bugs can cause anemia.
During the 2022 state legislative session, a Maryland state senator proposed a new law, SB 529, that would remove a fault-based standard that allows landlords to pass the responsibility for bed bug mitigation on to tenants.
What is landlords’ responsibility for bed bugs?
As the Maryland State Pest Control Association testified to the State Senate, the current law ostensibly makes bed bugs a landlord’s responsibility. However, it also applies a fault-based standard, meaning that if the landlord decides that the bed bug problem is the tenants’ fault, he or she can make them responsible for the expenses relating to extermination.
Why is a fault-based standard unfair?
It is difficult to determine how a bed bug infestation started. In a multi-unit dwelling, an infestation in one unit can spread to the others.
A fault-based standard assumes that conditions of uncleanliness and neglect attract bed bugs. This is not true. Five-star hotels that clean each room every day may still wind up with bed bug infestations.
While poor living conditions do not attract bed bugs, it is also true that infestations have a disparate impact on people living in poverty. Part of the reason may be that low-income families cannot afford professional extermination, and bed bugs are nearly impossible for laypeople to manage on their own.
What would the legislation change?
SB 529 would require landlords to order a certified applicator to inspect a unit within 96 hours of receiving notice of a possible bed bug infestation from tenants. If the certified applicator confirms the infestation, the landlord must have all adjacent units inspected and take reasonable measures to treat the bed bug infestation within five business days. It would remove the fault-based standard and make the bed bugs the landlord’s sole responsibility.
According to TrackBill.com, the bill was still in committee as of December 2022.