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?
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.