Recently in one of our Korea Town apartment buildings we inspected and found Bed Bugs in one of the units. This article will attempt to illustrate the steps one must take to effectively remediate bed bugs at your rental property. Under the Civil Code, it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the premises free from pests and rodents – even if the tenant is to blame!
First step is to call your exterminator immediately to determine whether in fact it is bed bugs. Remember they cannot fly or jump so often times tenants mistaken them for fleas or roaches. The exterminator will fully inspect the unit, not just the bed mattress and box spring, but the furniture, walls and floors can be infected too! The key is to remediate as soon as practically possible. Most extermination companies have a “notice of instructions” to post to your tenants that outlines all of the necessary steps that they must take to eradicate the bed bug infestation. It is critical that your tenants comply with these instructions exactly as they are intended. Any failure to comply could result in ineffective treatment. It is also critical to have your exterminator take detailed notes on which tenant(s) or unit(s) are complying with these instructions and which are not. Taking pictures is equally helpful. The reason, it could assist management and ownership in determining whether the tenant is at fault or not. Determining fault will help determine whether financial responsibility can fall onto the tenant and or grounds for eviction.
Lease and Bed Bug Addendum
It is critical to have a bed bug addendum in your leases that your tenants sign. There are many clauses to this sort of addendum, but the most important clause is one that states the tenant “acknowledges that the owner has inspected the unit and tenant is renting the unit free of bed bugs” and that the “tenant agrees that any personal items moved into the unit will be free of bed bugs.” Even with this language, a landlord is not guaranteed to recoup the costs from the tenant or make this a ground for an eviction. Proving that it is the tenants’ fault is often times difficult or nearly impossible. But if the tenant has failed to comply with the noticed exterminator’s instructions, then 3 Day Notice the tenant to Cure the Violation and immediately file an Unlawful Detainer action after the expiration of the 3-Day Notice to Cure. At the end of the day, if you as the owner or management company, do nothing about the infestation, that will open you up to further liability and the tenant can sue you (or get the city involved).
At the end of the day, as a tenant, an owner or management company you cannot ignore the situation when faced with bed bugs. You must act and act promptly to contain the bed bugs and deal with the issue head one. When it comes to figuring out who is responsible – the tenant(s) or the landlord – that is a secondary issue and one that is for a future article.