Bed bug disclosure bill under consideration for New York City

by nobugsonme on May 11, 2010 · 5 comments

in A10356, bed bug disclosure bill, bed bug legislation, bed bugs, landlords and tenants, new york state assembly

If New York State Assembly Bill A10356 is approved, New York City landlords would have to disclose to tenants any bed bug infestations in the property during the last five years.

The bill, sponsored by Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF), has the following purpose and provisions, outlined here:

TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the administrative code of the city of
New York, in relation to requiring owners or landlords of a property
within the city of New York to disclose bedbug infestation history of
such property before it is leased.

PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: The purpose of this legislation is to
offer prospective tenants information on prior bedbug infestations with-
in the property in question.

SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS: The bill will amend the administrative
code of the city of New York to add new section 27-2018.1, Notice of
Infestation History:

a. For housing accommodations subject to this code, an owner shall
furnish to each tenant signing a vacancy lease, a notice in a form
promulgated or approved by the state division of housing and community
renewal that sets forth the property’s bedbug infestation history for
the past five years.

b. Upon complaint by the tenant that he or she was not furnished with a
copy of the notice required pursuant to subdivision a of this section,
the division of housing and community renewal shall order the owner to
furnish the notice.

JUSTIFICATION: Prospective tenants have a right to access relevant
documentation regarding the history of bedbugs within their new living
spaces. This information is essential to making an informed decision and
should not be withheld from consumers. Should a prospective landlord
refuse to supply this information, they should be compelled to provide
it.

The status of the bill’s progress is that it was referred to the housing committee on March 19th, and amended and recommitted to the housing committee on April 20.

As an announcement posted on Rosenthal’s Facebook page says about A10356:

“The ability to obtain documentation on bedbugs in a specific building and apartment gives prospective residents a first line of defense against the nightmare of unwittingly renting or buying an infested home,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal.

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan and parts of Clinton (Hell’s Kitchen).  Despite her comments, the bill as it stands does not appear to cover prospective homebuyers. (This New York Times story from August 2009 details how difficult it can be for homebuyers to find out the bed bug situation in a building.)

However, this bill would be a great leap forward for New York renters. At the moment, tenants regularly move into apartments which are infested with bed bugs, which have recently been infested, or which may be in buildings where infestations have occurred in other units. Prospective tenants have a right to know about prior (or ongoing) infestations in their unit or the building as a whole.

Nevertheless, I can see a few concerns which may arise with this bill, if it is passed.

First, landlords or owners may complain that disclosing bed bug problems going back five years is not fair. If a building had one bed bug case in 2005, and it was quickly abated, then one might argue that this building should not wear a scarlet B in 2010.

My response to this concern would be that if landlords and owners had to disclose every infestation going back five years, then disclosures would be extremely common. This would remove some of the stigma.

Rather than rejecting every unit with any history of bed bugs — which would soon likely rule out every building in New York City — prospective tenants could instead weigh the relative risk from one apartment or building to the next, taking into account the history of the bed bug problem on a case-by-case basis. Landlords and owners could provide evidence of successful abatement.

(Note: in a subsequent version of the bill, the period for which landlords must disclose infestations has been reduced from five years to one.  Please see this post for more.)

A second concern is logistical. Infestations commonly go unreported or untreated by residents who do not know they have bed bugs. If the disclosure law passed, it would be important that prospective tenants were not lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of reports of past infestations.

And while currently the law applying to rentals in New York City places responsibility for bed bug treatment on landlords, it would also be important if this bill passes that the housing code were not also changed so that new tenants would be held liable for infestations which occurred after they moved into buildings or units with no documented history of bed bugs, since the possibility of a past tenant not identifying or disclosing the problem exists.

Despite these concerns, a legal requirement that owners and landlords disclose bed bug problems to prospective tenants appears to be much better than the current situation.

What are your thoughts on this NYC bed bug disclosure bill? Hit the comments button and let us know.

Rosenthal is also sponsoring a bed bug tax credit bill, which is discussed here.

Update (6/8/2010)

Please see this post for an update on this bill, including an amendment to its requirements.

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1 parakeets May 13, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Disclosure, particularly when mandatory and enforced, is such a great step forward. Some things I’m worried about: Will landlords be less likely to hire lic. PCOs once there is mandated reporting? Having a report of bedbugs might make it more difficult to rent units in a building or get top dollar so I assume some landlords will try to self-treat. What about intimidation of tenants by a landlord? If a landlord feels he will lose rental income, will he threaten tenants with retaliation if they report bedbugs? A tenant/landlord is not an equal relationship and it could become adversarial if a tenant reports bedbugs. Will landlords have access to the list of what buildings have bedbugs just as prospective tenants do? Will landlords refuse to rent to tenants who currently live in a building that has reports of bedbugs? I asked a lawyer who told me that kind of discrimination was not illegal. If your building is over a certain number of units, you can’t refuse to rent on basis of other factors such as race, sex, etc. but you can refuse to rent to someone if they have bedbugs. Since I have been denied medical treatments that I need (twice) due to my having bedbugs, I can imagine I could be denied the ability to move into a building that never had bedbugs since I come from one that has them. I could go on. I still believe disclosure is the only way to go and I highly support it. I am very concerned about tenants who have bedbugs and move into a new building. I don’t know if there would have to be some equal disclosure on the part of the tenant about whether they had bedbugs or not before they moved in.

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