For Landlords

What To Do If Your Tenant Brought Home Bed Bugs?

Last month, a certain trending topic on TikTok caught our eye and made us ask some questions from a landlord’s point of view. But mostly everyone was wondering: Is a free designer couch worth the risk of getting bed bugs?

TikTok’s 8000 USD Blue Bubble Couch

In a video that went viral (112M views as of writing this article), TikToker Amanda Joy found a blue bubble couch off a street in New York City. She begged her father to pick it up, later documenting the cleaning process before finally bringing it into her apartment. 

Why was she so excited? The couch was apparently a “Bubble” sofa from designer brand Roche Bobois, retailing for around 8000 USD, or about RM36,000. Knowing the worth of that couch might make anyone pick it up, so it was a particular achievement of Joy for spotting it. Except for the fact that New York City had a notorious bed bug problem, and it wasn’t long before her comment section was sounding the alarms.

“That couch was on the street for a reason,” said one commenter.

Someone else said, “Anyone else worried about bed bugs?”

Imagine being her landlord. You won’t sleep easy, that’s for sure.

The Dangers of Secondhand Furniture

What about Malaysia? Bed bugs are a lot more common in communal spaces like low-end hotels and cinema seats than residential homes. However, a factor that contributes to a resurgence of bed bugs is using secondhand furniture that isn’t properly inspected. Once you introduce that piece of furniture into your home, you might notice symptoms of bed bug bites and insomnia from the discomfort.

Bed bugs can also be brought home through your luggage, clothes, bag— anything that the bed bug can hang onto. Even a single female bed bug can spell disaster.

This is why it helps to be cautious each time you travel or from borrowing or buying someone else’s old belongings.

They will hide in your mattress, in cracks and crevices, in the walls and of course, your furniture. Since they only come out at night, it will be hard to detect them directly. The bugs are also very hardy so you need to be thorough and contact exterminators before the bugs can reproduce.

Bed bug cases in Malaysia rarely get out of hand since exterminators get minimal complaints from customers. But this might also be due to the lack of awareness about bed bugs, compared to pests like cockroaches and termites. If bed bugs seem like a small inconvenience instead of a serious matter, you’re only giving it the chance to spread even more.

The cost for a bed bug extermination ranges from RM500 to RM1000, depending on the severity of the extermination. You can always try to clean out your unit of bed bugs without professional help, but the infestation might come back if you weren’t thorough enough.

What If It Spreads to Other Furniture?

The largest risk of your tenant bringing home dodgy secondhand furniture is that any possible infestation could spread to the other furniture in the unit. If you invested in your unit by providing furnishing, it will cost you time and money to recover your furniture safely.

The big question is: can your tenant make you pay for an exterminator?

Landlords have to make sure the unit they provide is habitable for the tenant. But if the tenant brought the bed bugs into the residence then the landlord is not responsible for paying. In that situation, the tenant likely introduced bed bugs into the environment accidentally, possibly with a recent furniture purchase or after travelling. Any recent changes the tenant made to the unit prior to noticing signs of bed bugs can be reasonable evidence of such.

So no, you can decline if your tenant asks you to pay for an exterminator, citing your tenancy agreement. If the tenant chooses to ignore the infestation and let damages to your property to accumulate, or even run away from the property, it’s time to bring some legal help.

Related article: Ways to Fight and Prevent Bed Bug Infestations in Your Home

In the end, maybe you can empathise with Joy a little bit.

Or maybe not: in an informal Twitter poll with 13,766 votes, 47.8% of people said they would not have picked up that couch off the street. Let’s hope everyone is careful whenever they go secondhand furniture shopping from now on.

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