Bed Bugs: When Can You Sue Your Landlord in Los Angeles?

Under California premises liability law, Los Angeles area renters can file a lawsuit against their landlords if bed bugs bite them or have a bed bug infestation while renting a property.

When Can Los Angeles Tenants Sue for Bed Bug Injuries?

Typically, landlords in the Los Angeles area are liable for bed bug infestations and injuries if their landlord negligently maintained the rental property, which means:

  • The landlord knew there was a bed bug infestation, and

  • The landlord failed to take reasonable steps to eradicate or prevent the outbreak.

However, tenants may be able to use any one of the following legal theories as the basis of a bedbug claim against their landlord:

  • Negligence

  • Breach of the warranty of habitability,

  • Breach of contract, and

  • Private nuisance.

This article will look at each of the above legal theories for bedbug liability in California.

Negligence

A Los Angeles landlord may be sued for negligence for a tenant's bedbug injuries if:

  • The landlord owed the tenant a duty of care;

  • The landlord failed to exercise the care a reasonable person would use under like conditions and circumstances;

  • The landlord's actions or inaction was a substantial factor in causing the tenant's injury; and

  • The harm caused was a predictable outcome – meaning the landlord knew about the bedbugs or should have known about them.

In general, landlords owe a duty to use reasonable care to maintain common areas and facilities and to secure common areas against highly foreseeable acts of third parties. To perform this duty of reasonable care, the landlord must make sure a property is safe at the start of a tenant's lease, as well as make any repairs in a reasonable time after the tenant gives them notice.

Therefore, a landlord may be liable for any harm caused by bedbugs if they rent a property with a known bedbug infestation or fail to take reasonable steps to prevent such an outbreak after the tenant notifies them of the possibility.

Breach of the Warranty of Habitability

California property owners have a general obligation to maintain their properties in a "habitable" condition. A "habitable" condition means the property is kept in a suitable condition for the tenants to live safely.

In Los Angeles and other cities, the law also imposes specific obligations on landlords that are considered necessary elements of a non-hazardous and safe living environment, including keeping the property free from accumulations of debris, filth, garbage, rodents, rubbish, or vermin.

A tenant must show the following to recover damages for breach of the implied warranty of habitability:

  • A defective condition made the premises, so it was not decent or livable;

  • The tenant first gave the landlord notice and a reasonable window of time to fix the problem after discovering the defect on the rental property; and

  • The tenant suffered damages due to the uninhabitable condition.

Breach of Contract

Both commercial andresidential tenants can claim breach of contract. Commercial tenants often use breach of contract in bedbug cases in California because they may be able to collect "consequential damages," such as lost business revenue. It is also possible for residential tenants to bring a claim for breach of a lease contract if their landlord does not reasonably deal with a bedbug infestation in their home, although it is usually not necessary since state and local laws impose the warranty of habitability on landlords.

Under California law, the following four elements are the basis of a lawsuit for breach of contract against a landlord for a bedbug infestation:

  • There was a contract such as a lease agreement;

  • That the tenant "performed" their duties under the contract (e.g., paid rent) or reason for "not performing" their duties;

  • That the landlord breached the contract; and

  • The breach harmed the tenant (e.g., they had to leave the apartment, buy new bedding, hire an exterminator to fumigate, board their pets).

A rental agreement does not need to be in writing for a tenant to sue for breach. However, the tenant must prove that the landlord breached a term in the contract, which is far easier to do with a written agreement. If the tenant does not have a written copy of the lease agreement, however, there are ways to prove that a contract existed between the landlord and tenant including the testimony of the tenant or other witnesses if any.

Private Nuisance

A tenant must show to establish a private nuisance claim against a Los Angeles landlord:

  • The landlord created or caused a condition on the tenant's property that interfered with the tenant’s free use and comfortable enjoyment of the rental unit;

  • The interference caused actual harm to the tenant; and

  • The intrusion was “unreasonable” in terms of its duration, nature, or amount.

Are Waivers of the Right to Sue for Bedbugs Legal?

No. Although some landlords try to include a bedbug waiver — a clause that says the landlord is not responsible for any harm to the tenant caused by bedbugs — in their lease agreements, a tenant cannot be required to waive the landlord's duty of habitability. Under California law, the implied warranty of habitability includes keeping the apartment free of bedbugs, so bedbug waivers in rental agreements or leases are void, and the landlord cannot enforce them.