State Senators and Hudson County Democratic Assembly Members were already working on changing the laws in New Jersey so that landlords could not pass on bed bug extermination costs to tenants.
Now Jersey City politicians are trying to make the same change on the city level, ASAP. The Jersey Journal reported Wednesday via NJ.com:
The Jersey City City Council plans to introduce an ordinance sponsored by Downtown Councilman Steven Fulop [Wednesday night] that puts the financial burden for eradicating bedbugs and other annoying critters solely on landlords.
Fulop is pushing “a model the state can imitate.”
Unfortunately, the model introduced Wednesday night is not one the state should emulate.
A report from the Jersey Journal on Friday clarified the proposed legislation would require landlords to do one treatment and one follow-up treatment per year:
Sponsored by Downtown Councilman Steven Fulop, the ordinance says that landlords are not responsible for undertaking more than one treatment and follow-up treatment per year.
“If repeated treatments are necessary or if the extermination is due to the tenant’s failure to properly maintain the dwelling, the costs can be charged to the tenant,” according to the ordinance, which is up for final adoption in two weeks.
This is illogical. If a unit needs more than two treatments it can be because all bed bugs present were not eliminated in two treatments. It does not necessarily mean the tenant was uncooperative.
We’re told most bed bug infestations take three or more treatments spaced 10-14 days apart to clear, but the length of time it takes to eradicate bed bugs may depend on the skills and knowledge of the PCO, whether neighbors are infested (knowingly or not), how long the bed bugs have been established in the unit, and how far they have spread within it, among other factors.
In short, there is no rule that even careful simultaneous treatment of all properly-prepped infested units in a building will eliminate bed bugs in two visits. I believe that if bed bug experts are consulted on this legislation, they will be able to correct that idea pretty swiftly.
If this legislation goes through, bed bug problems will likely be more persistent, because some tenants who’ve had the problem spring back after their quota of two treatments will be reluctant to report them (because they can’t pay for treatment), and the problem will move around the building.
Instead, if landlords pay to eradicate bed bugs from any units they’re present in, the problem has a chance of being stomped out in a building, rather than spreading endlessly.
I know landlords also do not cause this problem, and am all in favor of government assistance for landlords for whom bed bug infestations cause a hardship. But blaming tenants for any infestations that are not eliminated in two treatments is illogical.
Now units needing more than two treatments will probably not get them.
This shows what can happen when those passing laws do not understand what they’re talking about. Any bed bug expert could tell you that just because an infestation requires more than two treatments does not mean the tenants are necessarily at fault.
And no, I don’t think landlords are necessarily at fault either. But I don’t think landlords or fellow tenants are best served by a system in which tenants have a financial disincentive to reporting their bed bugs.
Bed bugs can be remarkably persistent, neighbors can have no reaction to bites and not know they have bed bugs or are sending them through the walls; it’s a complicated problem.
I hope the NJ Assembly is able to pass their bill.
Update (2015): As of 2010, the wording of the Jersey City Bed Bug Ordinance was changed. It was updated to require landlords to provide as many treatments as needed to eliminate the problem (source: The Jersey Journal.) Bravo!