Bed Bugs have emerged as a problem in all US cities over the past decade and are a source of landlord-tenant disputes. Who is responsible for the costs of eliminating bed bugs? Some landlords now require tenants to agree to pay for bed bug treatments as part of the lease. This can encourage tenants to move, leaving an infestation behind, or to tolerate bed bugs for an extended period. In mult-unit buildings, an untreated infestation in one unit can be a reservoir for continued reinfestation of neighboring units.
For other common pests such as rats, laws were written to address the pests prior to the emergence of the bed bug problem in the 21st Century. Bed bugs issues can fall through the cracks of the legal system. Bed bugs have not proved to be major vectors of human disease and so may not be classified under law as a public health problem.
Jennifer Bard, a law professor at the University of Cincinnati, has published a lesson plan about bed bugs* as a method of teaching law students about public health law. The module uses information written by entomology extension faculty to teach law students basic information about bed bug infestation and control issues. Students also explore variation in the law as enacted in different states. The exercise (to this non-lawyer) makes clear that the US has a fragmented approach to bed bugs. A lack of coordinated effort hinders progress.
A coordinated effort is only possible when everyone participates in efforts to eliminate bed bugs and contributes their fair share to the cost of bed bug elimination. In the current US political environment, there is a reluctance to initiate new big programs that are funded by collecting taxes to support an institution led effort. Privatization and the wonders of the market are promoted as the most acceptable solutions to problems. This subjects residents of multi-unit buildings to never ending cycles of bed bug eradication from their private space followed by reinfestation from the neighbors. In such a situation, an individual will not successful end their bed bug problems. Hope for success relies on future technological breakthroughs that may take a long time. The privatized (individual) approach to the bed bug problem is ineffective and wasteful of resources, but it doesn’t raise taxes. .
*Jennifer S. Bard. Introducing Law Students to Public Health Law through a Bed Bug Scenario. journal of law, medicine & ethics. Teaching Public Health Law Supplement. Summer 2015.