Ask a Friendly Landlord

'Help! The Bedbugs Arrived at the Same Time As My New Neighbors'

How to survive an unresponsive landlord, and some very pesky critters.

October  4, 2019
Photo by Emily Ringel

What's your apartment living pet peeve? Your next-door nuisance? What do you do about the nosy neighbor who rifles through your mail? Or the guy who practices the trombone at 7 a.m. on weekends? In our latest series, Ask a Friendly Landlord, a peaceable expert suggests resolutions to the issues that arise when humans share space.

Bedbugs are, for many city dwellers, the ultimate apartment-based fear. They are tiny, they are almost invisible, and they are horribly invasive: the least-welcome houseguests of all time. And for those who get them, they can feel like a truly biblical plague. Getting rid of them often requires packing up and processing all your clothes and such, and can truly take over your life for a non-insignificant period of time.

Our last Ask a Friendly Landlord installment has to do with these horribly rude little critters, and how to deal with a landlord who won’t seem to help get rid of them.

Getting bedbugs is that classic New York nightmare you assume happens all the time, but think will *never* happen to you. But it did! I’ve been renting an apartment for two years with no problems. However, two months ago, we had new tenants move in, and ever since we’ve noticed a problem. I contacted my landlord, but she refused to believe me (I even pointed out to a tell-tale mattress that I saw put out near the bins). Eventually, I spent on getting an obnoxiously expensive inspector just to prove it to her. Now she wants to charge me the $750 for the treatment. Help!

My friend, I am very sorry that you have to deal with this! It’s a true nightmare, and we can only hope that you are racking up some good cosmic luck that will eventually rain down on you to balance out all this bad stuff.

It should be said that your landlord does have a legal obligation to take care of this for you. I spoke to Feng-Ying, a landlord outside of D.C., to get more insight. She insists—as do I—that you not pay for the treatment. “It should be the landlord’s responsibility, unless the landlord can prove that you brought the bugs to the apartment. My concern is that if you paid for the inspector, it might sort of admit your fault.”

Indeed, some leases come with a clause that suggests that tenants must pay for removal, if they are found responsible for bringing in bedbugs. However, in most cases, the law overrides that, making it very clear it’s management's responsibility to get rid of these cursed critters.

If you can’t get your landlord to come around and pay for the treatment, you should consider breaking your lease. This is what happened to the son of Feng-Ying’s friend, who also lives in New York. He got a lawyer to help him break the lease, because the building had bed bugs that the management couldn’t get rid of. If you can’t convince your landlord to pay for the treatment, you should let them know you plan on breaking the lease with the help of a lawyer. If that isn’t enough to get them to act, you gotta break that lease, baby—break free from the bugs.

Illustration by Emily Ringel

For more apartment living horror stories, check out previous columns here. Tell us what you've enjoyed about this series in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Safrax
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    Olivia Nguyen
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Safrax August 3, 2023
Chlorine dioxide gas not only kills bedbugs but it reaches and penetrates areas that other treatments just cannot replicate. You can find more information at
Olivia N. October 7, 2019
Hi! So I would highly suggest not immediately moving out. Bed bugs are the absolute worst and it's most likely that your neighbors brought them with them. Getting an exterminator to see if you them doesn't admit your at fault. There is absolutely no way to prove it. The problem is that even if you get treatment, if the apartment that has the issue that isn't reporting it doesn't get treated, it's just going to keep coming back. And the longer either of you forgo getting any kind of treatment, the more likeliness you're going to have an infestation and end up getting rid of your furniture, bedding, headboard, etc. You're going to need to put all of your clothing and anything that is fabric in a bag to go in the dryer on high heat for at least 45mins and then put them in a new bag. The thing is, if you move to a new place - you won't know if they'll be hitching a ride with you. Your landlord is 100% responsible and you can take legal action but like I said, if it's your neighbors that have them, then it's just going to keep coming back