NH bed bug bill regarding landlord & tenant responsibility passes

by nobugsonme on April 19, 2013 · 12 comments

in bed bug laws, new hampshire

The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that the New Hampshire Senate passed House Bill 482 Thursday, which “outlines the parameters for dealing with bed-bug infestations and the responsibilities of landlords and tenants to remediate the problem.”

You can read the full text of HB482 here.

According to The Union Leader,

The bill is a compromise among all the stakeholders, including tenants, landlords and municipalities. Proponents say the bill will allow a rapid response that clarifies the responsibilities for remedial action.

The bill grew out of the work of the Bed Bug Action Committee, bringing those affected by bed-bug infestations together to reach a compromise on the best methods to fight the problem.

The bed bug bill now goes to the governor.

House Bill 482 has a number of provisions, including the following requirements:

  • Tenants must allow landlords access to “Evaluate whether bedbugs are present after the landlord has received notice that bed bugs are present in a dwelling unit adjacent to the premises or a dwelling unit that is directly above or below the premises, provided the landlord gives the tenant 48 hours written notice of his or her need to enter the premises to evaluate whether bed bugs are present.”
  • Tenants must cooperate with any required preparations for treatment, “provided that such instructions are given to an adult member of the tenant household such that the tenant household has a reasonable opportunity to comply, and in all cases at least 72 hours prior to remediation.”
  • Landlords must investigate tenant complaints of bed bugs within 7 days.
  • Landlords must pay for treatment, “but may recover those costs if the tenant is responsible for the infestation.”  (If the tenant is deemed responsible, they have to pay the landlord or enter into a “reasonable payment agreement” within 30 days, or face eviction.)  The landlord bears the burden of proving the tenant was responsible.

Regarding this last provision, sections IV and V of the bill outline how they’re planning to determine responsibility; it appears that if there haven’t been other complaints from tenants and if the infested unit and adjacent units haven’t previously been treated, the original tenant will be considered “responsible” as the one who “brought bed bugs into the building.”

That’s a bit troubling, because the problem is, where there’s a concern that one might be held financially responsible (and be unable to pay), some tenants simply won’t report the problem.

Of course, the bill is smart in the sense it sets up a situation where –assuming that happens, and bed bugs spread into other units — the original tenant can be held responsible as the true “source.”

That is, assuming other tenants who get bed bugs later aren’t also too afraid to come forward.  And even if they do, that leaves the landlord presumably responsible for paying for treatment for all of these folks, all because the original (“responsible”) tenant did not come forward.

You see the problem?

It is, of course, a compromise between the various parties involved and I completely understand the point of this provision is to avoid the landlord taking on the burden of treating for bed bugs in all cases.  That’s an admirable aim.  We’ve all heard stories of the tenant who has a persistent guest with bed bugs, or the tenant who will not stop bringing in trash-picked furniture, for example.

However, the argument in favor of landlords paying for treatment in all cases, is that some tenants just won’t report the problem if they fear they will have to pay or be evicted, which for many will be the case.

And when that happens,  landlords will suffer financially, and other tenants will suffer (bed bug bites, costs of prep for treatment in time and money), if problems spread due to such a scenario.

The bill seems to mandate that landlords offer tenants deemed responsible a “reasonable repayment agreement,” and this part seems quite fair and well thought-out.  It’s just that bed bug treatment is very expensive and experience from reading what people write on our Bedbugger Forums suggests lots of people (especially those on limited incomes) will do anything to avoid coming forward and being held responsible.

And it also seems like that could lead to tenants being held responsible even if they weren’t the only ones who had had bed bugs, but just the only ones who’d reported them.

What about the group whose work the Union Leader suggested was the impetus for this bill?

According to the NH Bed Bugs website,

The Bed Bug Action Committee (BBAC) is a group of community organizers, college and university staff and students, non-profit leaders, local business owners, teachers, health workers, local officials, church members, and volunteers, all committed to successfully addressing the problem of bed bugs in NH.

We told you about the Manchester, NH Bed Bug Action Committee back in June 2009, soon after it formed to address the conditions in a highly infested building (Manchester’s Langdon Mill Apartments).  Read our original story here and the follow-up from September of the same year.

More soon on bed bug bills pending in Connecticut.

1 Charlie April 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I work with a tenants’ rights organization and have studied most of these bed bug bills. It’s a shame none of them require the landlord to provide new tenants with information on prevention and how to spot the early signs of an infestation. You’re right about tenants not reporting a bed bug problem if they think they might be liable for the cost of the treatment. Then they turn to self-help treatments that make the problem worse.

2 nobugsonme April 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Hi Charlie,
You make a good point about educational materials– though given the level of ignorance, I suppose that’s a mixed bag!

3 Bob April 20, 2013 at 12:36 am

This bill sucks. Many tenant will choose to live with bbs rather than reporting it. I got bbs from a neighbor who thought he had to pay for the treatment and lived with bbs for a year. All people in my apartment complex have low income. Why blame the tenants anyway ? It’s not like they bring the bbs on purpose. It happens by chance. What we should do is to educate people about bed bugs so they can protect themselves

4 CarpathianPeasant April 20, 2013 at 11:42 am

Hi, Bob!

I think you are right that most people would not deliberately bring in bed bugs and a few other things as well (gee, they’re cute — I bet they’d make wonderful pets?). However, people don’t want to be reminded of such things. They don’t want to be reminded of crime, either.

I sometimes post information (especially from this site) on a general board to keep local people informed of the current situation. There is actual effort to get rid of the postings because it makes the community look bad.

It takes a lot to get Americans motivated. Except for the people who have seriously “experienced” bed bugs, they are not yet motivated.

5 Ci Lecto April 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm

“Reasonable” is way too ambiguous for my comfort. Expert opinion varies as to what preparations are truly needed for effective control.

Also, why is it that tenants get 48 hours for inspection, 72 hours to prep, but landlords get 7 days to respond?

6 nobugsonme April 24, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Good points, Ci! “Reasonable” is very problematic.

7 Amber Coleman June 10, 2013 at 11:55 am

I am going through a situation where a tenant that lived upstairs from me moved out back in October 2012 and had a very bad bed bug infestation. About a week or so after she moved and the landlord heat treated the place I started getting bit up. I am low income but I did bring this to the landlords attention and he said that they did some type of spray to prevent them in my apartment (I’m sure they were already there though) so then I thought well maybe I could have some allergic reaction to something. It was not until my son started getting the same rash/bites on him that I took both me and him to the hospital and was diagnosed with scabies since they did not know of a bed bug problem. I treated both of us and did as I was told by the doctor to get rid of them only for them not to go away and was treated a couple times. It was not until about 2 weeks ago my friend told me what bed bugs look like so I did some research online as well, went to my bed and sure enough there they were. I reported it to my apartment manager right away and he did admit that he was sure they came from upstairs. He then had Orkin come in to verify and said they were going to pay for it. The Orkin man just let me know that I would have to get rid of my bed and 2 couches because if I decided to keep my furniture then they could come back and the next time I would be responsible. So I got rid of my furniture and packed everything in the bathroom that I was told to (basically my whole apartment) and was told I could not take anything out except clothes to wash and had to put those in air tight bags, wash and dry and put in new bags. Well after this my apartment manager decides to notify my that the owners of the complex will not pay for the treatment, want me to sign a paper saying I will pay them back for the treatment (basically saying I am responsible). The apartment manager told me then if I decide to sue to get reimbursed that I can bring that paper with but would not allow me to put on the paper that I do not feel I am responsible and I may have to sue the previous tenant that brought them to the building because it is not their fault. At this time I declined to sign the paper and they will not treat my apartment, I paid rent but cannot stay at my own place, cannot take my belongings out because it can spread and not to mention since they will not treat the apartment other apartments are at risk of getting these blood suckers. I’m just not sure what to do. Now me, my fiancé and son are jumping from place to place to stay until something is done and running low on money since we paid or rent and other bills for our apartment.

8 nobugsonme June 10, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Hi Amber,
I am so sorry you’re going through all that.

The recent bill mentioned in the post above (HR482) has been signed into law as of June 6th. However, it does NOT take effect until Jan. 1st 2014 (see previous link for full bill). So it’s not clear to me what laws currently cover your situation.

That the landlord wants you to sign a statement saying you’ll pay for treatment suggests that perhaps the current laws don’t say you are responsible for paying for treatment, if you know what I mean. Otherwise, why would you have to sign a statement agreeing to pay? I think it’s good you did not sign. (I’m not a lawyer.)

This (PDF) flyer from NH Community Resources (211) says you can call 211 for more information about bed bugs. They may be able to tell you more about the local laws which apply.

Someone from nhbedbugs.com may be able to give you more information.

You may also need local legal advice. There are Legal Aid clinics and other sources of free or low cost legal advice if needed. New Hampshire Legal Aid or the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Pro Bono program may help.

You might draw your landlord’s attention to this (PDF) resource from NHbedbugs,com which discourages people from throwing out furniture.

Finally, if you want more support from Bedbugger or have more questions, please register and post them in the BEDBUGGER FORUMS section of our site, where more people will likely see them and respond.

9 Madashell August 27, 2013 at 5:54 pm

The tenants below me have bedbugs. The guy finally called the landlord after I called the Board of Health and the housing authority, the other tenants have called property management and their landlords (condos). The problem is right below me. What rights do I have in the event only the one unit is treated and the bugs come to my unit? I have no bed thank the gods I sleep on my brand new couch. On top of it all my lease is up Oct 3rd, almost everything I own is packed in plastic totes. I already put all my clothes in plastic bags as my unit does not have a sign of the bugs. I am pissed off . I asked my landlord about bedbugs when I moved in and his reply was they were not an issue. This is round two since Nov 2012

10 nobugsonme August 28, 2013 at 1:40 am

Are you in NH? If so, this new law only goes into effect 1/1/14.
Your best source for information on your rights is probably a local tenants’ organization (Google to see if there’s one in your city, nearest city, etc.).

In most (but not all) places where landlords pay for treatment, landlords aren’t required to treat adjacent units which don’t show signs of bed bugs. I expect that’s true there.

However, you could try asking the landlord if his PCO will inspect your unit, just in case. You can also use inexpensive bed bug monitors to keep an eye on the situation– so at least you will know if you have bed bugs before moving. And if it happens well before your move, you can then seek treatment.

11 nobugsonme August 28, 2013 at 1:41 am

Also, Madashell, if you ARE ini NH, the group NH Bed Bugs, which was involved in getting this legislation passed, is a good resource and may be able to answer your questions about your current rights.

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