Perhaps New Hampshire’s famous motto “Live Free or Die” will be slightly amended — the state just passed a new law which means tenants and landlords may have an easier time living bed bug free.
The New Hampshire law, which was passed in June and goes into effect January 1, 2014, stipulates that landlords have to pay for bed bug treatment initially. (This helps make sure everything happens quickly.)
However, the law allows landlords to later charge a tenant for having their own unit treated (with an installment payment plan if needed), if that tenant is considered responsible for bringing bed bugs into the building. That is fair, I think, but (as usual in these scenarios) I have some concerns about how it will be determined “who is responsible”.
… there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the tenant is responsible for the infestation if during the 6 months prior to the inception of the defendant’s tenancy, and throughout the defendant’s tenancy, there were no reports, to the landlord or a municipal health or housing authority, of the presence of bed bugs in the defendant’s unit or the dwelling units of a multiple-unit building that are adjacent to or directly above or below the defendant’s unit, or by previous tenants in a single-family home.
In other words, the law seems to suggest that if no other tenants report their bed bug problems, the tenant who does report bed bugs is assumed to be responsible.
This is faulty reasoning, because there are lots of possible reasons for those adjacent neighbors not to come forward and report their own problem with bed bugs.
We know for a fact that some people will have bed bugs and not notice, sometimes for a long time. More often, perhaps, some tenants will fear repercussions (not least of which, having to pay for treatment they may be unable to afford) and may stay silent. Some admit they are willing to “put up with” bed bugs rather than pay for treatment. And then there are the tenants who stealthily treat their own units rather than report bed bugs — even though many DIY methods (like aerosols and foggers) make it more likely the bed bugs spread to neighbors.
The tenant who can’t stay silent about bed bugs may potentially be blamed and forced to pay for treatment, even though bed bugs may have come from next door– and even though they may keep coming.
All that said, it is very helpful to have a clarification of where tenants and landlords stand. I like the NH law’s requirement which forces landlords to respond to a bed bug complaint by having the unit inspected within seven days:
No landlord shall willfully fail to investigate a tenant’s report of an infestation of insects, including bed bugs, or rodents in the tenant’s rented or leased premises, within 7 days of receiving notice of such alleged infestation from the tenant or a municipal health or housing code authority, or fail to take reasonable measures to remediate an infestation.
There are also stipulations that tenants with bed bugs must cooperate with preparations for treatment (though with only a minimum of 72 hours notice– which can be difficult given some prep lists), and that adjacent or attached neighbors must cooperate with inspections of their unit if bed bugs are found next door.
I just wish this law clearly stated a requirement that landlords must have attached, adjacent units professionally inspected, instead of relying on tenants with bed bugs to come forward and report them. Smart and thrifty landlords will do this anyway, since they will end up paying for more infested units themselves if the apartment where the problem started is not found and treated.
As the Concord Monitor notes, it will be up to the courts to decide who is responsible if landlord and tenant don’t agree. I am not a legal expert, but I would guess that in this scenario– where only one unit has reported bed bugs, and the tenant believes they came from next door — the tenant could argue that if attached and adjacent units were never professionally inspected, the landlord can’t assume they were bed bug-free.
If the landlords are not smart enough to proactively inspect attached units when someone complains, let’s hope the courts are enlightened and fair, and will ask for this before assigning blame to the only tenant who came forward.
Image credit: “live free or die” by Paralog used under a Creative Commons Attribution/No Derivatives license.