Here’s the story. A tenant in Pacoima, CA complained of bed bugs numerous times to his management company, who for several months, refused to provide pest control. When the landlord did nothing to eradicate the pests, the tenant called the Housing Department, who confirmed the bed bug infestation. Within those few untreated months, the tenant endured 500 to 1,000 bites and suffered both physical and emotional distress.
After a four-year trial, in May of 2017, a jury at the Chatsworth, CA courthouse agreed that the management company had no excuse for not addressing what had become a severe infestation and awarded the tenant over $450,000 – one of the largest verdicts for a single person.
Who Is Responsible?
That’s the million dollar question. Logic tells us that tenants, (not the landlord) picked up the bed bugs from travel, purchasing used furniture or from visiting a household already infested. However, determining who introduced the pests can be extremely difficult in multi-family units. If you are certain of the source of the infestation, you can hold your tenant financially responsible, in which case, renter’s insurance should cover their costs. (Tenants in single family homes often own the financial responsibility of extermination as there would be no other resident to blame.)
However, falling under the responsibility to providing habitable housing, the landlord must exterminate all pests, including bed bugs – even when it can be proved that the tenant introduced them. As a result, landlords, (check your insurance policies) most often end up with the cost of extermination and even relocation costs in properties with several rental units.
What Can a Tenant Do?
If you, the landlord, fail to take care of a major bed bug problem, a tenant can:
- Withhold rent
- Use the “repair and deduct” remedy to cover extermination costs
- Break their lease and move
- Turn you in to the Housing Department or
- Sue you in court
What Landlords Should Do When Notified
- Immediately address the problem – call a bed bug professional
- Ask your pest control expert to “map the source” of the infestation
- Notify tenants of their responsibilities before extermination begins (i.e. remove clutter, wash all clothing and bedding in hot water and put in plastic bins or bags, discard infested items that cannot be treated, thoroughly vacuum, etc.)
- Begin the extermination process as quickly as possible – a single pregnant female can cause an infestation of more than 5,000 bed bugs within a six-month period. Bed bugs take approximately six to 17 days to hatch.
Regardless of whether the tenant introduced them to the building or not, the landlord has a responsibility to make the place habitable. Which means the landlord would likely pay for the extermination and costs associated with it. However, if the landlord can prove the tenant introduced the bed bugs to the building, they can collect the reimbursement from the tenant, who would be financially responsible. If the tenant refuses to pay the landlord, the landlord may serve the tenant a 3-Day Notice to Cure the Violation or sue the tenant for reimbursement in small claims court.
Patricia A. Harris is Senior Editor of the Apartment Owners Association News and Buyers Guide.