By now everyone is aware that hotels and motels are prime hot spots for bed bug activity. It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point. In the past we’ve spoken at length about how to protect yourself and your family from bed bugs when staying in hotels. We’ve offered tips on inspecting hotel rooms and handling luggage in order to minimize the risk of exposure to bed bugs.
But all of these articles and tips shift the responsibility onto travelers. In effect, it becomes your responsibility to deal with any bed bugs found in your hotel room; but what about the hotel owners and staff? What responsibilities do they have?
First things First …
Before we go any further it is important to remember that every hotel is susceptible to bed bugs. It doesn’t matter how high-end the lodgings or how expensive the accommodations. If people are coming and going with any degree of regularity there will be a chance of bed bug transmission and activity. This is why it is so important that people educate themselves about how to avoid bed bugs when traveling, and what their rights are as guests and patrons of a hotel or motel.
State and Local Laws
There are no federal laws concerning bed bugs in the United States. Currently, there are 21 states with legislation pertaining to bed bugs and bed bug infestations. These regulations cover a lot of territory, with only a very few targeting commercial lodging establishments. In most states throughout the country there are few if any regulations pertaining to bed bug infestations and hotels.
The majority of state and local bed bug legislation addresses the responsibilities of landlords and commercial rental property owners. The bulk of these regulations tend to focus on the responsibilities of landlords to take ‘reasonable steps’ to maintain clean units and eliminate bed bugs from their properties when needed.
Some state and local regulations may require landlords and property owners to fully disclose past bed bug infestations to prospective renters before signing any binding leases. Beyond that, most state and local laws lack any teeth and allow for a lot of wriggle room in their applications.
Again, few states have any laws directly addressing bed bugs and hotels. However, that doesn’t mean that guests have no recourse of action should they encounter bed bugs during a hotel stay.
Common Law, Bed Bugs, and the Rights of Lodgers
While there are no laws directly targeting bed bugs and hotels, guests do have certain rights under what is known and accepted as ‘common law’. Common law demands that hotel owners and managers take ‘reasonable care to keep guests safe’ during their stay.
While bed bugs do not pose a life threatening risk to lodgers, the likelihood of guests dealing with rashes, scarring, and general allergic reactions is always present. Therefore it is only reasonable that hotel owners and management should take the necessary steps to maintain a clean pest free environment for their guests.
Common law does not oblige hotel staff to ensure the personal safety of lodgers, but they are required to take ‘reasonable’ measures to promote the safety and wellbeing of their paying guests. If hotel management is unaware of an infestation on their property they cannot be held accountable under common law.
However, if guests can prove that management was aware of the bed bug infestation and failed to take any reasonable measures to correct the situation there may be cause for legal action on the part of the lodger.
Pursuing Legal Action
In certain circumstances bed bug infestations and bed bug bits can be seen as serious injuries under the law. Bites can lead to lasting psychological effects, and the bites themselves can lead to incessant itching, unsightly rashes and, in some cases, permanent scarring.
If you find yourself a victim of bed bugs while staying in a hotel or motel it is imperative that you document your experience as fully as possible. Take photos of infested rooms and furnishings, as well as photographs of bed bug bites and rashes that appear as the result of the encounter. Contact the local health department immediately and ask them to inspect the hotel rooms and to send you a copy of any subsequent reports.
Finally, after you’ve gathered all the evidence file a formal complaint with hotel management. If you found it necessary to seek medical care be sure to include affidavits from your doctor that document your treatment. Keep a copy of all of this material for your personal records in case you need to pursue civil litigation should hotel management fail to satisfactorily answer your complaint.
In the final analysis it’s every guest’s responsibility to protect themselves from bed bugs when staying in hotels or motels. The majority of hotel owners and managers take pride in maintaining a clean and safe environment for their customers, but guests should always be vigilant. Check your lodgings for signs of bed bug activity before settling in for a stay, and take any steps you can to minimize your risk of exposure.
Beyond that it is important to know your rights as a consumer, and to pursue and avenues of redress should you unknowingly end up exposed to a full scale bed bug infestation while staying in a hotel or motel.