In a rental home, bedbugs can be a major headache for both tenants and owners. Bedbugs, unlike roaches or mice, feed on people. Moreover, they are extremely hard to find and unbelievably difficult to kill.
In recent years, bedbugs have become a big issue in rental homes. Bedbug infestation in a rental is widely considered a breach of its implied warranty of habitability, says Pinnacle PMC. Therefore, with the rising incidence of bedbug infestation, there is also an upsurge in bedbug litigation.
In California, the legislature has responded to this growing problem by creating laws to help bring clarity to the issues. In January 2017, the new California bedbug law went into effect. It created a framework for how landlords and tenants must approach bedbug issues.
As an owner or manager of rental property in California, what should you know about AB-551, the state’s bedbug law?
A Summary of AB-551: California’s Bedbug Law
AB-551 recognizes that fighting bedbugs in a rental home requires cooperation between landlords and renters. Here are the responsibilities it assigns to each party:
- Landlords are not to show, rent, or lease a rental unit if it has bed bugs. Though landlords are not required to inspect a home for bedbugs, if bedbugs are found in it after a tenant moves in, the landlord is assumed to have known about the problem.
- If a unit is known to be infested, the landlord/manager should have it treated by an approved pest control company, which should issue bed bug clearance for that unit.
- When accepting new tenants, landlords/managers are mandated to inform them of their rights/responsibilities, as far as bedbugs are concerned. They should educate the tenant on the following:
- Detailed information on how to identify bedbugs based on their physical appearance. The details must include the appearance of a bedbug during the different stages of its life cycle or when it has fed.
- Information about the bedbug life cycle and reproduction: how many eggs females lay, how long they take to reach adulthood, how long they live, and how many days they can go without feeding.
- How to identify bedbug bites and when people are most likely to be bitten. Information should also include possible immune responses to bedbug bites.
- Telltale signs a tenant can use to detect bedbug infestation: signs to look for on walls, linens, upholstery, mattresses, and bed frames; how to identify bedbug eggs and molted skins; the characteristic odor of bedbugs; and how to identify bedbug lesions on the human body.
- Websites where tenants can get further information about bedbugs. The URL of the sites must be explicitly stated. The websites are: https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs and http://www.npmapestworld.org/
- Landlords/managers must mandate tenants to report suspected bedbug infestation within seven days. All occupants of a unit – whether identified in the lease or not – are obligated to report a suspected infestation. Tenants should be informed of the person responsible for receiving, documenting, and acting on the report.
- Landlords/managers must retain the services of a pest control operator, at most, three after a report by tenants.
- Following the pest control operator’s inspection of the unit, landlords have, at most, two business days to inform tenants of the pest control operator’s findings.
- If there is an infestation in a unit or building, landlords are to give tenants a notice of “intent to enter” within 48 hours. The landlord/manager is to hire a pest control operator to treat the rental for bedbugs.
- If bedbugs are found in the common areas, all tenants in a building must be notified. Landlords may opt not to disclose the specific units in a building where bedbugs were found.
- Landlords must follow the best practices for bed bug treatment as contained in the Integrated Pest Management approach by the National Pest Management Association. If they do not, they may become liable.
- Before using any pest control treatment, landlords must disclose the chemicals to be used to the tenants. Landlords/property managers and pest control operators must work together to handle tenants’ allergy issues.
- Landlords can take legal action against tenants who refuse to grant entry to their units for pest control treatment.
- Landlords must do follow-up treatment of affected units and surrounding units until bedbugs are completely eliminated.
- Landlords/managers are not to take retaliatory action against tenants who report a bedbug infestation. That tenant cannot be evicted, even for non-payment of rent, until the matter is fully resolved.
- Tenants must not knowingly bring bedbug-infested items into a unit.
- Tenants must report any suspected infestation within seven days of identifying the possible signs of infestation. All human occupants of the home have this responsibility.
- Tenants must cooperate with landlords/managers to facilitate inspection and treatment of the unit. They must comply with landlords’ requests for information.
- Tenants must prepare their units for pest treatment, as directed by the pest control operator, or they may become liable.
- Tenants may take legal or any other action if a landlord/property manager fails to conduct the bedbug treatment as stipulated by the National Pest Management Association website (http://www.bedbugbmps.org/)