Are Landlords Responsible For Bed Bugs In Ontario?
The Law Requires the Landlord to Address a Bed Bug Problem. The Law Also Requires the Tenant to Co-operate and Reasonably Assist the Process.
Understanding the Landlord Mandate For Exterminating Bed Bugs Including the Potential Liability for Damage or Injuries
Frustratingly, bed bug infestations have increased significantly in recent years and dealing with a bed bug infestation may be a highly disruptive and costly process. Reasonably so, landlords often worry about the multiple treatments required to eradicate bed bugs and a landlord will often ask if the costs may be passed through to the tenants, especially where the landlord may believe the tenants are the source of the infestation. However, as bed bugs are a concern relating to a maintenance issue, such is governed by section 20 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, Chapter 17 which explicitly says:
20 (1) A landlord is responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards.
As above, per the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, the landlord is responsible for the effort and costs incurred to remedy a bed bug problem. If the landlord to take proper efforts, a tenant may seek an Order from the Landlord Tenant Board directing the landlord to do so. To do so, the tenant may apply using a Tenant Application About Maintenance (Form T6) document. At a subsequent hearing at the Landlord Tenant Board, if successful, the tenant may receive the Order directing the landlord to perform proper maintenance and the tenant may also receive a rent abatement as well as compensation for the value of any belongings that were thrown away because of the bed bug infestation. With this said, it is notable that the presence of bed bugs fails to make the landlord immediately responsible for losses or stresses to the tenant whereas the law requires a landlord to act reasonably, rather than perfectly, in maintaining the rental unit, or rental complex; and accordingly, a contextual review of the maintenance efforts of the landlord is required. Simply said, the law is without a mandate that the landlord must insure against the presence of bed bugs. Specifically, per the case of L.O. v. B.P., TET-10802-20 (Re), 2020 CanLII 61323 it is said:
18. The Ontario Court of Appeal in Onyskiw v. CJM Property Management Ltd. (2016 ONCA 477) determined that landlord is not automatically in breach of their maintenance obligations as soon as a problem arises and a contextual approach is necessary in determining whether or not a landlord has breached their maintenance obligations under section 20 of the Act. That approach involves a consideration of the “entirety of the factual situation” before determining that a landlord is in breach of their maintenance obligations.
19. The question is whether the Landlord took reasonable and timely steps to exterminate the bed bugs after the Landlord was informed of the presence of the bedbugs in the Tenant’s rental unit.
Although the landlord is duty bound by the statute and therefore is ultimately responsible to take prompt and proper steps for the treating of a bed bugs situation, the tenants are duty bound and required to co-operate and participate in the process to assist and ensure the timely, effective, and hopefully successful, efforts of the landlord. Pest control companies provide detailed instructions outlining how to prepare the rental unit for treatment. This will often include removing excess items from shelves, laundering all bedding and clothing, and moving furniture away from the walls. If the tenant fails to adequately prepare the unit for treatment the landlord may incur additional costs due to unproductive or additional visits by the pest control company. Where the tenant failed to co-operate and participate in the process, and thereby failed to adequately assist the landlord in the eradication process, the landlord may apply to the Landlord Tenant Board in an attempt to recover the additional costs caused by the tenant. When attempting to recover the additional costs, it is the landlord who must prove that the tenant failed to co-operate and that the lack of co-operation caused, or contributed, to the increased costs incurred by the landlord.
Generally, the treatment of bed bugs falls within the maintenance responsibility of a landlord. A tenant is required to act reasonably in assisting the landlord in the eradication of bed bugs by enabling access to exterminators, among other things. If the tenant impairs eradication efforts, the tenant may be liable to the landlord for aggravating expenses incurred by the landlord.