No one wants to have to deal with bed bugs in their home, but the increased mobility of people worldwide has brought the scourge, once nearly eradicated, back with a vengeance. Perhaps the biggest reason they are so hard to fight is that they are very, very good hitchhikers. They enter homes and apartments in new or used clothing, furniture or bedding and even on your or your visitors clothing, shoes and bags. From the Brooklyn district attorney’s offices to posh Beverly Hills retail stores and hotels, these pests are turning up everywhere and becoming a landlord’s nightmare. Because landlords have a duty to ensure that their properties are safe and habitable, regardless of the source of the problem, they are required to address bed bug problems when they arise.
Recently passed legislation also now requires California rental property owners and managers to take additional steps to educate tenants about the problem by making bed bug disclosures, and, at the same time, prohibit landlords from retaliating against tenants who report them or renting out units known to be infested with bed bugs. Under the same new law, tenants are required to cooperate with inspections and treatment for bed bugs.
Beginning July 1, 2017 an owner shall provide to all new tenants with written notice in at least 10-point font containing the following information:
- Educational information about bed bugs;
- The procedure to report suspected infestations to the owner; and
- A statement that the tenant shall cooperate with the inspection and facilitate the detection and treatment of bed bugs.
The written notice must also be provided to existing tenants by January 1, 2018.
The educational information must include the following:
- general information about bed bug identification;
- behavior and biology;
- importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment;
- importance of and for prompt written reporting of suspected infestations to the landlord; and
- procedure to report suspected infestations to the owner/ manager.
Fortunately, the new law provides owners with the language that is necessary to comply with this requirement and we have copied it at the bottom of our post.
In addition to the proactive notice required above, owners also are subject to new disclosure requirements when an infestation is discovered:
Written notice to tenants after inspection: When individual units are inspected for bed bugs by a pest control operator, owners are required to provide the tenants of those units with a report containing the findings. The notification must be in writing and made within two business days of receipt of the pest control operator’s findings. For confirmed infestations in common areas, all tenants shall be provided notice of the pest control operator’s findings. These provisions are effective January 1, 2017.
Vacant dwelling units with infestations: A landlord shall not show, rent, or lease to a prospective tenant any vacant dwelling unit that the landlord knows has a current bed bug infestation.
NOTE: This section does not impose a duty on a landlord to inspect a dwelling unit or the common areas of the premises for bed bugs if the landlord has no notice of a suspected or actual bed bug infestation. If a bed bug infestation is evident on visual inspection, the landlord shall be considered to have notice pursuant to this section. (Civil Code Section 1954.603.) This provision is effective January 1, 2017.
Retaliation is prohibited: The new law also makes clear that tenant complaints to the owner or any government agency regarding bed bugs are considered habitability issues and any retaliation by the owner is prohibited. This is simply an amendment to long-standing law prohibiting landlord retaliation for complaints about other habitability issues (Civil Code Section 1942.5). Retaliation includes the following: an increase in rent, a decrease in services, an act that would cause a lessee to quit involuntarily, or bring an action to recover possession. The amendment to the retaliatory eviction law becomes effective January 1, 2017.
How and when do landlords need to provide the required written notice to tenants? There are two distinct dates for owners to keep in mind, July 1, 2017 and January 1, 2018. Beginning July 1, 2017 owners must provide the written notice to all new tenants before they begin their tenancy. The notice should be included in the lease documents, and provided directly to the prospective tenant.
The second date, January 1, 2018, is the date by which existing tenants must receive the written notice. So, how should landlords provide this notice to their current tenants? The easiest way to provide notice to tenants in multi-family units is to post it in a conspicuous place in a common area, like the entrance(s) to the property. Other methods to provide the written notice include: personal delivery, posting at the door of every unit, USPS mail or email.
How should a landlord report the findings from a bed bug inspection of the premises to tenants? When a tenant reports that they suspect a bed bug problem to the owner or manager, it is vital that the landlord act promptly to engage a licensed pest control operator to conduct an inspection of the suspect premises. Regardless of whether the inspection turns up an infestation or not, the landlord has an obligation to provide the written report of the inspector to the tenants of the unit(s) that was inspected within 2 business days. The written findings can be provided by leaving a copy of the written findings in the unit that was inspected, personal delivery, mail, email or posting it on the front door of the unit. If you choose to have the inspector to leave the findings for the tenant, you should confirm they were received, and make sure they also provide you a copy. Ultimately, it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure the findings are provided to the tenant.
Tenants are required, as part of the law, to “cooperate with the inspection to facilitate the detection and treatment of bed bugs, including providing requested information that is necessary to facilitate the detection and treatment of bed bugs to the pest control operator.” For most landlords, failure to cooperate should constitute a material breach of the lease.
What notice is required for bed bugs found in a common area? When a bed bug infestation is discovered and confirmed by a pest control operator in a common area of a property (rec room, laundry room, hallway, etc.), the new law requires that “all tenants” be given notice and a copy of the inspection findings. As with the new general notice, the easiest way to provide notice to tenants in multi-family units is to post it in a conspicuous place in a common area, like the entrance(s) to the property. Other methods to provide the written notice include: personal delivery, posting at the door of every unit, USPS mail or email.
The information provided herein is intended to give general guidance and awareness on California’s new
bed bug laws and shall not be construed in any way as a substitute for individual legal advice.
Those that require specific advice should consult an attorney.
Bed Bugs Fact Sheet and Reporting Procedures
Bed Bug Appearance: Bed bugs have six legs. Adult bed bugs have flat bodies about 1/4 of an inch in length. Their color can vary from red and brown to copper colored. Young bed bugs are very small. Their bodies are about 1/16 of an inch in length. They have almost no color. When a bed bug feeds, its body swells, may lengthen, and becomes bright red, sometimes making it appear to be a different insect. Bed bugs do not fly. They can either crawl or be carried from place to place on objects, people, or animals. Bed bugs can be hard to find and identify because they are tiny and try to stay hidden.
Life Cycle and Reproduction: An average bed bug lives for about 10 months. Female bed bugs lay one to five eggs per day. Bed bugs grow to full adulthood in about 21 days. Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding.
Bed Bug Bites: Because bed bugs usually feed at night, most people are bitten in their sleep and do not realize they were bitten. A person’s reaction to insect bites is an immune response and so varies from person to person. Sometimes the red welts caused by the bites will not be noticed until many days after a person was bitten, if at all.
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Possible Bed Bug Infestation:
- Small red to reddish brown fecal spots on mattresses, box springs, bed frames, mattresses, linens, upholstery, or walls.
- Molted bed bug skins, white, sticky eggs, or empty eggshells.
- Very heavily infested areas may have a characteristically sweet odor.
- Red, itchy bite marks, especially on the legs, arms, and other body parts exposed while sleeping. However, some people do not show bed bug lesions on their bodies even though bed bugs may have fed on them.
Importance of Cooperation for Prevention and Treatment: To prevent and treat bed bug infestations, it is important for owner(s) and tenant(s) to work together.
Procedure to Report Suspected Infestations: If you suspect that your unit has a bed bug problem, promptly provide the rental property owner with a written notice containing the following information: 1) description of what was discovered; 2) date/time infestation was discovered; 3) location of infestation; 4) name, unit number, and contact information.