By Alan Pentico
The Internet is rife with horror stories about tenants successfully suing property owners over bed bugs. Blogs, news articles and columns gleefully recount court cases in which “bad” landlords have been smacked with huge fines for “allowing” bed bugs on the property. In fact, a casual review might suggest that it is always the responsibility of the landlord to deal with — read: pay for — infestations.
But that is not the case, and both landlords and tenants should educate themselves on the matter to avoid costly legal battles.
The most important thing for tenants to know that if they inadvertently cause a bed bug infestation, they can be responsible for extermination costs. And that happens with alarming frequency.
Almost as common as the “bad landlord” stories on the Internet are cautionary tales about tenants finding seemingly great furniture deals in online classifieds, like Craigslist, or at garage sales, only to find them crawling with bed bugs. Worse, many tenants might not think twice about picking up that couch they find left at the curb — but that is even more risky.
How common are bed bugs? In a 2013 survey, the National Pest Management Association and University of Kentucky found that 99.6 percent of U.S. based professional pest management companies had encountered a bed bug infestation in the past year, slightly higher than the 99 percent that reported the same in 2011.
So, it behooves both landlords and tenants to be proactive when it comes to bed bugs.
Landlords: Avoid costly exterminations — and lawsuits — by regularly inspecting your property for bed bugs and other vermin. The best defense against legal claims is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Many landlords do inspections between tenancies to certify that rental units are indeed bed bug free prior to re-renting. Also, if a tenant does report an infestation, take care of it promptly.
Tenants: Don’t buy used furniture! Don’t pick up “free” furniture off the street! If you bring bed bugs onto the property, you can be liable for the cost of cleaning them up. If you do end up with bed bugs, you have a duty to cooperate with the extermination process. That often means allowing multiple visits by an exterminator.
And make no mistake: Dealing with bed bugs is costly and difficult. In fact that same 2013 survey found that bed bugs continue to be the most difficult pest to treat, according to 76 percent of survey respondents, more so than cockroaches, ants and termites.
—Alan Pentico is Executive Director of the San Diego County Apartment Association.