New California Bed Bug Disclosure Requirements

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.

 

Renters, Don’t Get Scammed!

road-sign-464653_640Finding a new home is tough, especially in the current market. Looking for a new place is time consuming, frustrating and often emotionally fraught. After all, you plan to spend a significant amount of time and money to be there. You want it to be safe, clean and yet as cheap as possible. So, with emotions running high and often a deadline to move (you’ve already given notice or your lease is nearly up), predators see a target-rich environment in the rental market. Don’t let yourself get scammed!

Every year we are contacted by more and more prospective tenants who have seen our property advertised for far less than it really rents for or who have been asked to send money to some random third party who is trying to use our listing to scam them. While we work incredibly hard to keep bogus listings off rental sites, it really is a game of whack-a-mole.

So, how can you tell if a listing is legitimate? First, you really do need to do a little research on your own to understand the local rental market. Spend some time on rental sites like Zillow, Hotpads, Padmapper and even Craigslist, and look at the prices of properties that are in the same area, are the same size and have similar amenities. Understand that a place with a private garage should cost a little more than one with street parking, and a place with a window air conditioner should cost less than one with central AC. Once you have done that, you should check any property you are considering for the Zillow.com Rent Zestimate. While the Zestimate isn’ t any sort of actual price, it can give you some a baseline to work with.

Once you have an idea of what a property should be priced, your first clue that a posting you see is a scam is if the price is too good to be true. An asking rent that is significantly below market rates should lead you to start asking questions. Alone, it isn’t a definite sign of a fraudulent listing. It could indicate that it is being rented during an off-peak period (close to the holidays) or that there is some flaw in the property (it is next to a noisy freeway). But it is definitely a red flag.

So, what else should you be looking at to determine whether or not it is a scam? The first thing to do is to check competing websites and compare the same property for other listings. If you find it on Rentals.com, check Zillow and Craigslist. It is vital you check multiple sites because many are owned by the same companies and are simply using the same data. By checking several sites (and it is smart to check the About Us page to see if they are all owned by different companies), you have a better chance of finding whether or not there is another price listed for the same property. You should also check for different contact information. If you find that listings on different websites have different phone numbers, names or emails, one of them is probably fraudulent.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that the listing is a scam is when the landlord can’t or won’t show you the interior. If a landlord asks you to inspect the property by walking around the outside, then it is probably because there is no way for them to show you the inside. It is almost certainly a scam.

The majority of these online rental scams are done by individuals or groups outside the United States. For this reason, English is rarely their first language. If you find that the listing is full of typos or bad grammar, this should also be a red flag. Often to avoid this problem, scammers these days are simply copying the legitimate listing text and using that in the set up. The tell-tale then is in the quality of their email reply. If the writing seems stilted or grammatically off, then this should definitely give you pause.

If the landlord tells you they are living overseas or out of state for work, or to tend a sick relative, or (one of my favorites) for missionary work and they are renting it long distance, it is probably a scam. The scammer will instruct you to wire them the deposit, and they will send you the keys. You should absolutely NEVER wire money to someone you meet online. If anyone you meet online as part of your housing search asks you to send them money, but they are unwilling to meet you in person and show you the interior of the house, you should report the listing as fraudulent and cease all communications with him or her.

As a tenant, you want to rent from a well-organized, high-quality landlord who does things the right way and cares about who is living in his or her property. Great landlords have an established screening process and carefully vet all their applicants. So, if a landlord isn’t asking you to fill out a n application and to consent to a credit check, then the landlord either doesn’t know what he is doing, doesn’t care about finding great tenants, or it is a scam. Any of these should worry you.

Smoke alarm regulations for California residential rental properties

California requirements for smoke detectorsSo, do I really have to replace all my smoke alarms with 10-year battery versions? No, not necessarily. The California Senate Bill 745 changed the law so that every new smoke detector sold and installed in California must come with a 10-year battery that can’t be removed. In addition, all new smoke alarms must have a manual silencing feature and a designated place to write the installation date by January 1, 2015. The new law does not apply to alarms that are hard-wired.

The new devices cannot be turned off and will still chirp when the battery gets low. However, they will be required to have a “hush” feature to stop the chirping. But, you do not have to change out the old ones for the new type yet. You only need to install the 10-year battery models when:

  • A current detector isn’t working.
  • Work is done to a unit requiring a permit – and when the value of the work totals $1,000 or more.

In 2016, more requirements took effect, with smoke detectors required in all bedrooms and other
rooms where people sleep, in accordance with state fire marshal regulations. In most jurisdictions, you will also need to install one just outside the sleeping area as well. If you know tenants are using a bonus room or other room in the house as a sleeping area, be sure to install one there as well.

Rental property owners are responsible for testing and maintaining smoke alarms. When it comes time to replace one, you’ll need to install a smoke detector that:

  • Displays the date of manufacture on the device
  • Provides a place on the device where the date of installation can be written
  • Incorporates a hush feature
  • Incorporates an end-of-life feature with notice that the device needs replacing
  • If battery operated, contains a non-replaceable, non-removable battery capable of powering the smoke alarm for at least 10 years.

Determining how often to test is an issue, but one easy solution is to do it at the time change in the spring and fall. It also gives you a good way to do a basic condition inspection and make sure the furnace filter has been changed. Just give your tenants notice and plan to check things out.

Use the time change to do your residential rental property inspections

Inspection of rental property recommendationsSpring Forward and Fall Back. The time changes twice a year, so how can you, as a landlord, use that to help you manage your properties? One simple thing to do is to simply send your tenants a reminder of the need to change their clocks, and, at the same time, remind them to test their smoke alarms and change their furnace filters.

Want to do a bit more? Plan to use the time change to remind you to do the alarm test yourself. In California, you are responsible, as the landlord, to make sure that your tenants have operational smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, so you really ought to do it yourself. That also gives you a chance to take a look at the general condition of the unit as well. Give your tenants notice and do a walk-through, with them if you can, to make sure everything is in good order. If twice a year is too much for you, plan to do it at least one time per year. This allows you to head off major repairs before there is a major problem.

You can also use the opportunity to change the furnace filter. While you can make the tenant responsible for changing the filter, if you take care of it yourself, you are able to be a bit more certain that it is being done. Keeping the furnace in good working order will help prolong the life of this very expensive piece of equipment.

Property owners should encourage renter’s insurance policies

Renter’s insurance coverage recommendedMany renters think that insurance is too costly or just plain unnecessary.

Since all properties are susceptible to a variety of damages, whether it be fire, theft, or even a broken kitchen appliance, there really isn’t a scenario in which a tenant should go without renter’s insurance. But it is important to weigh the associated costs, both monetary and sentimental in determining just how much insurance to carry.

A common reason tenants avoid renter’s insurance is they do not think their belongings are worth the coverage. But most people underestimate the value of their possessions and would be surprised by how much it would cost to replace the things they have accumulated. If your tenants balk at buying insurance, suggest that they go around their residence, room by room, and take full inventory of their belongings before making a decision. People tend to only think of big ticket items, but it isn’t just the refrigerator, computer and television, but the towels, clothing, bedding, dishes, utensils and food, too. The average renter in a two-bedroom apartment has about $30,000 worth of stuff.

Renters often think that their landlord’s insurance will cover them in a fire or other emergency. What they don’t realize is that the insurance policies that landlords hold for their properties typically only protect the building itself. Even if the landlord owns appliances or other items within your rented home, he or she is not responsible for damages they inflict on your personal property. For example, if you just bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of frozen food and you stuck it in the freezer that the landlord owns, and it breaks down, spoiling all the food, the landlord would not responsible for it. That would be part of renter’s insurance if you wanted coverage for that lost expense.

Accidents happen too. For example, a flood in your apartment (if your bathtub overflows and water seeps into the unit below damaging your neighbor’s things) may damage other tenants’ property and can be costly. Renter’s insurance can help you to cover the cost of this type of damage (up to the policy limits chosen by the renter).

Renter’s liability protection can cover medical or legal expenses associated with your rental too. For example, if someone trips and falls in your apartment during a party, could you afford to pay the potential medical expenses associated with their injury? And in the event of a lawsuit, could you pay the legal expenses as well? A typical renter’s policy will cover that full range of risks that any renter could be exposed to.

Renter’s insurance coverage needs are different for every individual, based on factors like age, location, and protection needs from things like natural disasters. Renters need to give serious thought to their needs, and they should check with several insurance companies before making a decision. The average policy runs only $15 to $20 per month, and, in the end, is well worth the cost.