Faika Shabaan, an Annapolis, Maryland woman who lived with bed bugs in a rental unit for more than eight months, has been awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages for loss and suffering.
According to NBC News, the lawsuit argued that the landlord in this case knew about bed bugs in the unit when the lease was signed, but did not disclose the problem (the subject of an open housing code violation) to the tenant.
The Capital Gazette notes that Shabaan first suffered from what she later discovered to be bed bug bites from when she moved in in October through April, when someone finally suggested the skin lesions might be from bed bugs.
That led Shabaan to ask around in the building, according to The Capital Gazette:
Shaaban worried about her neighbors — a woman and baby who lived in the second apartment in the converted home.
The woman told Shaaban she’d reported the bedbug problem to Barrett for weeks and nothing had been done.
Shaaban next spoke to the superintendent on the site. The man, who also lived in the home, said he knew about the infestation, but was afraid he’d lose his job if he told the tenants. He said he got bitten every night, too.
Shaaban contacted city employees to complain. Records show Barrett was found in violation and ordered to hire a licensed, professional pest control contractor to eradicate pest in units A and B.
“He defies the order of the city,” Whitney said. “He decides to pick up some propane heaters and do it (himself), not knowing what he’s doing.”
City records confirm Barrett’s failed attempt.
Heat treatment is not a do it yourself project.
But the horror does not end there!
According to The Capital Gazette, in apparent retaliation for her reports to the city, the landlord then shut off Shabaan’s hot water and eventually her entire water supply, and finally evicted her while she was out — so that the tenant arrived home to find the remnants of her belongings on the curb– that is, the stuff which hasn’t already been stolen.
It’s noteworthy that the amount awarded was twice what the plaintiff asked for. And to put it in perspective, as The Baltimore Sun notes, it’s more than twice the $382,000 that the brother and sister plaintiffs received in the Mathias v. Accor judgment in 2002. (In that famous case, a Chicago Motel 6 rented a unit it knew to be infested.)
As Shabaan’s lawyer Daniel Whitney told the Capital Gazette, “The jury was asked to send a message… I think they have.”
Articles about landlords being held responsible for bed bug treatment usually elicit a certain resistance among the commenters, so let me be clear: we are not anti-landlord. Landlords and tenants should both have rights in a bed bug situation.
However, there is no way on earth that a landlord should be allowed to rent a unit which is known to have a bed bug problem which hasn’t been eliminated. Landlords should not get away with not disclosing such a situation to a prospective tenant.
And if the law requires landlords to address bed bugs, they should not be allowed to ignore this. We hear about these two situations more often than you’d think, and it really is despicable.