Sunday, May 15, 2011

BED BUG BILL: TAKING THE GUESS WORK OUT OF BED BUGS!

Unless you have been living under a rock you know that those tiny little bed bugs are a big problems for landlords, both large and small. Getting rid of the bed bugs is currently only the first part of the problem. For a landlord dealing with the costs of extermination and the costs of damages to the tenant and surrounding tenants can be almost as big a headache as the bugs themselves.

This is amplified because there is no statutory framework to guide the courts in how they should deal with this issue. Given the court's tendency to rule in favor of tenants there is a very real risk that landlords will be found to have breached their duty to provide habitable premises if bed bugs are found. This is particularly unjust because the odds of a landlord causing a bed bug outbreak are very small.

The Apartment Association of North Carolina has come up with a solution to the uncertainty in House Bill 721.


What does the bill do?

The main part of he bill is as follows:

"§ 42‑43.1. Bedbug infestation; landlord and tenant obligations.

(a) A tenant shall notify his or her landlord, in writing, within five days of suspecting the presence of any infestation of the species cimex lectularius, also known as bedbugs. If the landlord did not obtain a certificate from a licensed pest control company as provided in G.S. 42‑42(a)(9), and the tenant took initial possession of the premises less than 30 days before the written notification was given, then, within five days of receiving the notice from the tenant, the landlord shall contract with a licensed pest control company to exterminate any bedbugs in the premises. If the landlord did obtain a certificate from a licensed pest control company as provided in G.S. 42‑42(a)(9), or if at least 30 days have passed since the tenant took initial possession of the premises, it shall be the tenant's responsibility to have the bedbugs in the premises exterminated.

(b) Where the tenant is responsible for the extermination of bedbugs, the landlord may provide the tenant with either the name, address, and telephone number of the licensed pest control company that certified the premises were free of an infestation of bedbugs or with the name, address, and telephone number of pest control companies that the landlord deems reputable. Within seven days of notifying the landlord of the suspected presence of bedbugs, the tenant shall do both of the following: (i) contract with one of the licensed pest control companies suggested by the landlord or, if no companies were suggested, with any licensed pest control company, and (ii) have the premises treated for bedbugs by the licensed pest control company. In all situations, the tenant shall allow the landlord and the licensed pest control company access to the premises and shall carefully follow all instructions provided by the landlord or licensed pest control company to facilitate the elimination of bedbugs. Where the tenant is responsible for the extermination of bedbugs, the tenant shall be solely responsible for any fees charged by the licensed pest control company and any damages associated with the presence and elimination of bedbugs from the premises and any attached units and spaces, and the tenant shall furnish to the landlord proof from the licensed pest control company of the services performed.

(c) After a licensed pest control company has treated the premises and deemed the premises free of an infestation of bedbugs, the tenant shall be responsible for all subsequent infestations. However, whenever a tenant notifies the landlord of the presence of bedbugs, if it is determined by a licensed pest control company that the source of the bedbugs is an adjacent unit, then the tenant in the source unit shall be responsible for the extermination of the bedbugs in accordance with the provisions of this section.

(d) The failure of any tenant to comply with the provisions of this section shall be a breach of the tenant's obligations under G.S. 42‑43(a)(8), and the landlord may do any or all of the following: (i) contract with a licensed pest control company at the tenant's expense to exterminate the bedbugs; (ii) terminate the tenant's tenancy; or (iii) pursue a cause of action against the tenant for damages."

The bill also includes complying with the new statute as part of a landlord's responsibilities under NC. Gen. Stat. 42-43(a), and allows a landlord to deduct from the security deposit if the tenant fails to comply.

Where is the bill now?

On May 18, 2011, the bill was assigned to the Subcommittee of Business and Labor within the Committee on Commerce and Job Development.

What can I do now about bed bug liability?
You probably can't make any changes affecting your current unexpired leases. However, all expired tenancies are fair game for bed bug provisions. Until this bill is passed a landlord's best bet is to use a Bed Bug Lease Addendum detailing the responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant in the event bed bugs are discovered on the rental premises. AANC is preparing a Bed Bug Lease Addendum for its members that should be available shortly! If you are not an AANC or TAA member you should use the same care in preparing this addendum that you do in preparing your lease!

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