As we’ve noted recently, New Jersey’s Warranty of Habitability laws currently state that landlords of buildings with three or more apartments have to pay for their tenants’ bed bug treatment. But the laws don’t prohibit landlords from passing on the costs to tenants.
The real problem with this is that it means some folks may not get the bed bug treatment they need, when they need it. And if your neighbor passes up bed bug treatment, it can mean you get bed bugs.
A recent infestation at the Grandview Terrace, a moderate-income building for seniors and those with disabilities in Jersey City, drove this point home: when tenants are asked to pay the costs of bed bug treatment, and can’t afford it, or feel they can’t afford it, they go without. And the bed bugs continue to multiply and spread. And that isn’t good for tenants or landlords.
Some Grandview Terrace residents have had bed bugs for three years. Imagine if that was your grandmother, your disabled brother, or you yourself suffering from bed bug bites for three years straight.
According to the Jersey Journal, some local legislators are determined to change this legal loophole:
Hudson County Democratic Assembly members Joan Quigley and L. Harvey Smith, along with state Sens. Brian Stack and L. Grace Spencer, D-Newark, announced last week that they are preparing legislation for the fall that would make the bedbug buck stop with landlords.
Apparently, at least one Grandview Terrace resident was lobbying lawmakers for such a change:
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” said Grandview Terrace resident William Dorrity, who began lobbying state and local officials for the legislation after paying $300 for an exterminator. “The only reason (landlords) are getting away with it is because they’re exploiting a loophole in the law.”
On the other hand, I am also sympathetic to landlords who feel they also cannot afford to pay for bed bug treatment. This epidemic hits landlords hard, as well as tenants and homeowners.
The Jersey Journal suggests landlords just want those who are “responsible” for the introduction of bed bugs, or for not cooperating with treatment, to be charged:
Building owners would like to retain the right to charge tenants in certain cases, such as those who reintroduce an infestation or are uncooperative during the extermination process, he said.
This may not sound entirely unreasonable to those who don’t know bed bugs well, but it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a building’s infestation. (It’s part of what we call “the bed bug blame game”.) It isn’t easy to say who introduced or reintroduced bed bugs. But one thing’s for certain: blaming (and charging) the first person to complain about bed bugs means that tenants simply won’t mention the problem, for fear of being the one blamed.
The bottom line is that prompt, thorough treatment is going to cost less than delayed treatment, or treatment which misses some units. Everyone with bed bugs must get swift treatment. Ultimately, if those legally burdened with paying for treatment are unable to pay (whether they’re tenants, landlords, or homeowners), they may need to lobby the government for assistance.
That statement will send our libertarian friends up in arms! However, if as many were afflicted with floods or tornadoes causing costly damage as are currently hit by the bed bug “natural disaster,” surely we’d see some government assistance flooding in.
The Grandview’s William Dorrity and New York vs. Bed Bugs have the right idea: if you need help, tell your elected officials.
If you’re in the States, find your US Senator, US Representatives, Governor, State Senators, and State Representatives with one single click here! Google your mayor and city council. Wherever you are, chances are you can google your way to an email form or phone number for your city, state or provincial, and national lawmakers.