The North Carolina Senate will be considering a bill in 2012 that would have a huge impact on how landlords and tenants deal with bed bugs — and who pays for treatment — in the state.
H721, also known as the Landlord/Tenant/Bedbug Liability bill, passed in the North Carolina House in June. I have some concerns about its provisions.
The bill would prohibit landlords from renting a unit known to be infested by bed bugs. However, if the landlord gets an inspection from a licensed inspector, prior to leasing the unit, with a written report stating no bed bug evidence was found, then the landlord won’t be liable if a problem is discovered later.
If the landlord does not get an inspection before renting the unit, and then a tenant complains bed bugs are present within 60 days of renting the unit, the landlord must hire someone to treat within five days of this complaint. All neighboring units must also be inspected.
Landlords must also provide educational materials about bed bugs to new tenants.
The bill also requires tenants to refrain from knowingly introducing bed bugs to the unit, stating: “tenants shall not knowingly or recklessly introduce onto the premises any person or thing infested with bedbugs.”
Tenants must notify landlords in writing within five days of suspecting they may have bed bugs.
If the landlord got an inspection before the tenant moved in, or if more than sixty days have passed since the tenant moved in, the tenant must pay all costs of bed bug treatment — hiring a firm within seven days.
This tenant would also need to cover “any fees charged by the licensee [PCO] and any damages associated with the presence and elimination of bedbugs from the premises and any attached units and spaces.”
- This bill does not specify what type of inspection is permitted. Regardless, no inspection methods exist — neither human nor canine — which are 100% reliable. So a clear bill of health from the inspector cannot be taken as fact.
- This bill would mean tenants end up paying to eliminate bed bugs which were present before they moved in, simply because someone did a cursory inspection and signed a sheet of paper for the landlord.
- If tenants do not react allergically to bed bug bites, then it can take longer than sixty days to notice visual signs of their presence.
- Cases which existed in the unit prior to move in could become the tenant’s responsibility simply because they do not react to bed bug bites, and don’t see the early signs of the problem.
- This bill would also penalize tenants who do notice and report bed bugs — since they may not have been the ones to introduce them to the building.
Here’s just one way this could go horribly wrong:
- Let’s say Tenant A has a problem and does not notice (does not react to bites, does not notice the visual signs at first).
- Her neighbor, Tenant B later starts have a problem.
- Tenant B reacts to bites or can spot the signs more easily.
- So Tenant B dutifully reports the problem.
- If it’s sixty days after she moved in, or if the landlord got an inspection certificate before she moved in, Tenant B must pay for her unit to be treated and for all neighboring units to be inspected and treated if necessary.
- She ends up paying for Tenant A’s bed bugs (though Tenant A had them first) and Tenant C’s treatment (Tenant C living on the other side of Tenant A).
- This kind of scenario would undoubtedly occur, as would another in which a tenant moves into a unit with an early problem, where the inspector simply did not see evidence.
The instinct behind the bill — to make things fairer for landlords, and to force both landlords and tenants to work together to fight bed bugs — is not a bad one.
I understand the need for landlords and tenants to share the burden of eliminating bed bug problems. It isn’t fair for landlords to shoulder the entire costs of bed bug problems which are invariably brought in by tenants, guests, or maintenance workers, or which come from an attached building owned by someone else.
On the other hand, it also isn’t fair to create a system in which responsibility can be evaded as simply as this, or where an inspection holds more weight than is due.
It really is not possible for inspectors to sign off on units with 100% certainty they’re clear.
And tenants who don’t report problems promptly but instead put up with the problem for a while will be rewarded when their neighbor gets bed bugs and reports their own problems, then becoming liable for the costs of treatment for all units.
You can’t really legislate who pays for bed bug treatment based on the blame game. Blame for bringing bed bugs into a particular structure is just far too difficult to discern in many cases.
This bill was dreamed up by people who don’t know a lot about how bed bugs operate, or how difficult it is to determine with 100% certainty whether they’re present or not. Not surprisingly, it was initiated by a rental housing industry group.
Because posts about legislation under consideration often cause confusion to readers, I stress that this bill has not been made into a law, but be warned: it will come up for consideration in the North Carolina Senate in 2012.
You can download the full text of H721 from the North Carolina General Assembly’s website (PDF).