A2072, the New Jersey Assembly bed bug bill sponsored by sponsored by NJ Assembly Members Joan Quigley (Jersey City) and L. Grace Spencer (Newark) — a.k.a. The Quigley Bed Bug Bill — has now passed in the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee.
An earlier bill passed in the New Jersey Assembly as A3203 during the last session, but unfortunately was not subsequently picked up by the NJ Senate.
The bill calls for landlords to pay the costs of tenants’ bed bug treatment; current New Jersey laws require landlords to treat for bed bugs, but allow them to pass on the costs to tenants. That may seem fair to some, but in fact, means tenants who can’t pay may simply not report bed bugs, which then continue to spread.
And that’s bad for landlords and tenants.
. . . would make building owners responsible for maintaining dwellings that are free of bedbug infestations. Under the bill, if and when a bedbug outbreak is reported, landlords would be required to exterminate the pests at their own expense.
Under the bill, landlords who did not take action when bed bugs were reported would face fines, and local health boards would be empowered to conduct bed bug treatments and bill landlords who did not cooperate.
The measure would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services to create an pamphlet to educate renters about bedbugs and about renter’s responsibilities to notify their landlord if bedbugs are detected.
This educational component is an important component of the bill. The Introduction to the bill notes the pamphlet will contain,
A statement describing the legal rights and responsibilities imposed on tenants and owners of multiple dwellings by this act, including, but not limited to the owner’s duty to keep the premises free of the presence of bedbugs, a tenant’s duty to notify the owner of the presence of bedbugs, and the potential financial liability of a tenant for repeated eradications caused by either a failure to properly maintain the unit or for interfering with the owner’s access to the unit for inspection or eradication purposes.
Within ten days of a tenant notifying him or her of the presence of bed bugs, the landlord has to start eradicating them in that unit and also begin ascertaining whether bed bugs are present in other units and common areas. That’s important, since it means landlords can’t just deal with complaints piecemeal, but should be proactive (though it’s unclear how this would be enforced).
Tenants, in turn, have to allow landlords access with 48 hours notice to inspect or treat their units — and failure to comply may make them liable for treatment costs. If bed bugs are present in an apartment after a tenant moves out, the landlord may deduct from the security deposit.
As the Jersey City Independent reminds us, the bill is not passed yet:
The bill now goes to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote. The City Council passed similar legislation in Jersey City in 2008; if the statewide bill passes, Quigley has said the city’s ordinance would become moot.
And that may be a good thing, because as noted here, the Jersey City bed bug ordinance only requires landlords to perform one bed bug treatment and one follow-up treatment per year — which is fewer than many bed bug infestations may require. Under that ordinance, tenants are responsible for additional treatments if needed.
It’s my strong suspicion that this does not in the end save money for landlords, because tenants needing additional treatments may not be able to pay for them, or may choose not to — allowing bed bugs to spread further in buildings, and ultimately costing the landlord more money.
I am somewhat concerned that this may also happen under A2072, since the bill states that
If repeated eradications are necessary due to the tenant’s failure to properly maintain the dwelling, the costs of eradication may be charged to the tenant. . .
Unlike the Jersey City ordinance, this bill does not spell out how many treatments should be provided by the landlord. Two bed bug treatments (the number Jersey City requires) is often too few.
This stipulation is also troubling since neighbors with infestations, or a particular PCO firm’s treatment protocols, may mean more treatments are required, and while tenant cooperation is essential, it is not always the tenant’s fault when his/her treatment takes a long time.
I am also wondering how the rule that landlords can have access to inspect or treat with 48 hours notice will play out: it’s really good that landlords will have provisions to deal with tenants who are uncooperative, since one uncooperative tenant who refuses treatment may be causing many tenants to live with bed bugs, as well as costing landlords more money.
However, pest management professionals often require lengthy preparation for bed bug treatment. It’s in landlords’ and tenants’ best interests if prep is done properly and so tenants do need time to prep once an inspection finds treatment is necessary.
Forty-eight hours is often not enough: think of a single-parent family with young children being told on a Monday night that they have treatment in two days, and yet also being told to wash every item of clothing in the home and (as some PCOs require) to bag everything else. And all this in two evenings when the parent worked all day.
I would hate to see this legislation lead in such cases to hardship for working people who have every intention of cooperating with treatment for pests they may have been entirely unaware were present. Similarly, assistance or more time may be needed for seniors and people with physical challenges which make prep difficult.
Despite those concerns, this bill seems like it improves the situation for landlords and tenants, and makes things harder on Mr. Cimex Lectularius. And it’s a lot better than the current situation in New Jersey, where tenants may be unlikely to report their bed bug infestations if they are not able to pay for treatment.