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Although the historical relationship between bed bugs and humans dates back to ancient Egypt, the common bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, vanished from the beds of Americans around World War II. In the late 1990s, however, our bloodsucking bedfellows returned. Bed bug infestations are a growing public health issue. Bed bugs are now found in all fifty states, with populations in five states reaching epidemic levels. Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) consider bed bugs a “pest of significant public health importance."

Despite their name, bed bugs are not limited to the bed, the bedroom, or even the home. Infestations exist in both public and private settings, and anyone visiting an infested area can leave with several hitchhiking bugs in tow. Bed bugs spread quickly, and infestations are costly. Due to their small size, quick reproduction ,and pesticide resistance, controlling and remediating bed bug infestations is distinctly challenging. Untreated or inadequately treated infestations quickly spread because bed bugs travel room-to room through cracks in walls and ventilation. Bed bugs present a particularly intractable infestation even for experts. Infestations in multi-unit apartment complexes are the most frequent, the most expensive, and the most challenging to control. Low-income tenants, in particular, often lack the financial means to respond effectively to infestations.

The current structure of landlord–tenant law encourages behaviors that contribute to the spread of bed bugs. In response to growing infestations, some states are passing bed bug-specific legislation to clarify landlord and tenant roles when bed bugs infest rental complexes. However, in the absence of such laws, it is unclear which party is responsible for the costs of an infestation. Notably,for purposes of liability, identifying the source of a bedbug infestation is difficult, especially in multi-unit facilities, and it is almost impossible to prove fault. The legal ambiguity, coupled with high extermination costs, encourages disputes over liability. While parties debate, infestations are left untreated and spread, increasing the cost of future remediation. To reduce bed bug populations across communities, prevent litigation, and curb the spread of infestations, a legal solution is necessary.

Georgia is not among the states with legislation clarifying landlord–tenant roles in bed bug infestations. Untreated bed bug infestations are a public health concern and necessitate are examination of Georgia landlord–tenant law to explore options for incentivizing landlord–tenant behaviors that curtail, rather than contribute to, the spread of the bugs. Part I of this note outlines the bed bugs’ biology and places landlord–tenant disputes in a public health context. Part II examines Georgia case law, statutes, and local codes, and argues that although current law and policy seemingly require landlords pay to remediate bed bug infestations, a clear assignment of liability is necessary to reduce the burgeoning bed bug population. Finally, Part III proposes the Georgia legislature adopt a statutory solution similar to recent bed bug legislation in other states.