Understanding the Bedbug Laws

A unit of mine had a bedbug infestation. Per the pest control operator’s (PCO) instruction, my tenant had to dry clean all of her dry-clean-only clothing and now wants a reimbursement. Am I responsible for her dry cleaning bill? Further, will I be required to let all prospective tenants know about this now-remedied bedbug inspection in the future?

n most instances, you are not responsible for this cost.  Dry cleaning costs should be the tenant’s responsibility as it is in connection with damage to the tenant’s personal property. Absent a showing that the landlord or the landlord’s agent was negligent (for example, the landlord either caused the infestation to occur or failed to promptly address the infestation thereby resulting in the spread of bedbugs), damage to a tenant’s property is the tenant’s responsibility.  While the landlord is under an obligation to pay for and implement the correction of the bedbug infestation, the tenant bears the costs associated with cleaning and replacing personal effects.  Indeed, the same analysis would apply if the tenant’s items were damaged by mice or some other pest; absent a showing that the landlord caused or failed to timely address the pest infestation, the same analysis applies.

Suggest to the tenant that she look into whether her renter’s insurance policy covers such expense. Many leases, such as the SFAA rental agreement, require that tenants maintain policies of insurance to cover these types of events.  If you were to decide to reimburse her as a courtesy, you would unfortunately set a precedent not only with this tenant but other occupants in the building to demand reimbursements for damages to personal property and effects in connection with a flood, leak or other incident or event.  A landlord should not have to stand in as a proxy for an insurer when habitability issues result in losses. The obligations of a landlord are extensive but insuring a tenant’s property against damages is not one of them.

Incidentally, both landlords and tenants share responsibility to ensure the unit is free from pest infestation. The landlord fulfills this obligation by promptly engaging a licensed pest control operator to treat and manage the unit for pests.  The tenant, likewise, must promptly inform management when there is a pest problem.

If a prospective tenant asks about bedbugs, the landlord must disclose in writing the unit’s bedbug infestation and abatement history, or lack thereof, for the previous two years. Landlords must provide a written bed bug disclosure (in at least 10-point type) to any prospective tenant prior to creating a new tenancy that contains general information about bed bug identification, behavior and biology, the importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment, and the importance of and for prompt written reporting of suspected infestations to the landlord.

 The new laws also prohibit a landlord from showing, renting or leasing to a prospective tenant any vacant residential unit that the landlord believes has a current bed bug infestation. In addition, landlords must notify the tenants of any units inspected/treated by a PCO for bedbugs.  Such notification must be in writing and given to the unit’s tenants within two business days of receipt of the PCO’s findings. If a bed bug infestation is confirmed in a building’s common areas, all tenants of the building must be provided notice of the PCO’s findings within two business days of receipt of the PCO’s findings. The new laws also impose obligations on residential tenants. Tenants are required to provide entry upon service of a proper twenty-four hour written notice of entry into any unit selected by the PCO in facilitating the detection and treatment of an infestation and to conduct follow-up inspections of surrounding units until a bed bug infestation is eliminated. Tenants are further required to cooperate with the landlord and PCO, including providing requested information to the PCO that is necessary to facilitate the detection and treatment of beg bugs.

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