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What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny brown insects about the size of an apple seed. They typically spend the day in small cracks and crevices in the bedroom—often in the bed. At night, they bite and feed on the blood of the person sleeping in the bed, then return to their hiding place. Under the right conditions, adult bed bugs can survive up to one year without feeding, which is one reason it can be so hard to get bed bugs out of a home.

According to DATCP, bed bugs are found throughout Wisconsin and commonly in buildings occupied by tenants, such as private homes, apartment complexes, communal living facilities, and hotels. 

As their name suggests, bed bugs are often found in living and sleeping areas. Although sometimes associated with poor sanitary conditions, eliminating clutter helps ensure successful treatment.


  • People can have different reactions to a bite. Some people will develop a small welt similar to a mosquito bite. However, some people may not have any reaction. Additionally, this means that a new tenant did not necessarily bring bed bugs in, as the bugs could have been present before, but the previous tenant did not have reactions to the bites and may not have known. 
  • Bedbugs are attracted to human blood. Bed bugs are not attracted to food waste or dirt.
  • Heat treatment is the most effective way of getting rid of bed bugs.
  • Bedbugs can survive for up to 1 year without feeding. Bed bugs can go dormant, meaning they could reappear when a new tenant moves in, even if the apartment has been vacant for a month. 

Who is responsible for removing or paying to remove bed bugs?

Most of the time, the landlord is responsible. According to Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a), the landlord is responsible for removing bed bugs unless they can prove that the tenant caused the infestation. Proving that a tenant caused an infestation can be tricky because: 

  1. Bed bugs can survive up to a year without feeding
  2. Different people have different reactions to bites, and some people do not react at all, so it can be hard to tell when the infestation started. Bed bugs can also come anytime from other apartments in a shared building. 

How to address a bed bug infestation:

  1. Take photos/document everything: At the start and throughout the entire process, the tenant should document when they found bed bugs, how they found them, and anything else that could be relevant. 
  2. Write a letter to the landlord: The tenant should tell the landlord in writing that the tenant found bed bugs.  
  3. If the landlord refuses to treat the home or bills the apartment for the treatment, notify them of laws. The tenant is only responsible for treating an infestation if the landlord can prove that it was the tenant's fault. However, with bed bugs, it is almost impossible to know how the infestation started. The tenant can notify the landlord in writing that according to Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a), it has to be proven that the tenant is at fault.
  4. If the landlord still charges the tenant with the treatment, tenants have the option of either filing a DATCP tenant/landlord complaint or disputing the charges in small claims court. 

How bed bugs are exterminated: The most common way that bed bugs can be removed is through a heat treatment or chemical treatment. Heat treatments are the most effective and are what landlords generally decide to do. 

  • Heat treat the entire home: A company will heat treat the entire home. This involves sealing off all windows and exits, and a company brings in a large heater that will heat the home to at least 118°F for 90 minutes. This kills the bed bugs by overheating their bodies until they die, and the same happens to the eggs.
  • Chemical treatment: There are chemical treatments available that can be cheaper than heat treatments. However, they are less effective and usually take multiple treatments. This is because 1) chemicals only cover surfaces and do not get into every crack, and 2) bed bugs are becoming more resistant to chemicals. Additionally, humans can have reactions to the chemicals used for treatments.


Hi! Did you know that we are not attorneys here at the TRC?  And this isn't legal advice, either.  If what we've written here doesn't sound right to you, talk about it with someone you trust. For help finding an attorney, check out our attorney referral list