Bedbugs are a growing problem, as our San Francisco attorney has commented on several times in this blog. Bedbugs, which are usually brought into a property by pets, clothes, or luggage, are an especially big problem because of their ability to hide in cracks, electrical outlets, behind wallpaper, between baseboards and in fabric furniture. Additionally, bedbugs can remain dormant for many months, reappearing even after treatments seem to have worked. As bedbugs become a bigger problem, awareness of renters, and the expectations of landlord responsibility rises as well. What happens though, when landlords evade their responsibility to provide a habitable and bedbug free environment for their tenants?
$800,000 Bedbug Lawsuit
In the biggest bedbug lawsuit to date, a tenant of a bedbug infested apartment in Annapolis, Md, was awarded $800,000 in damages after suing her landlord. The tenant moved into the apartment in September 2011. Soon after moving in, she found herself covered in scabs and lesions all over her body from bedbug bites. After speaking with the superintendent on the site, a man who also lived in the home, the tenant found that the superintendent was aware of the fact that bedbugs were on the property and tenants were not properly informed. The tenant proceeded to contact city employees to complain about the problem, and they found the property owner in violation and ordered to have him hire a licensed, professional pest control contractor to eradicate the bedbugs in units A and B.
What followed were actions that surely provided sympathy to the plaintiff. The property owner, instead of hiring a licensed pest control contractor, tried to deal with the problem himself, making the infestation worse and even damaging some of the tentant’s personal property. The property owner then took retaliatory measures against the tenant for reporting the problem to the city, shutting off the hot water to the apartment for a week and then shutting off the entire water supply to the unit. Finally, the tenant was evicted and her possessions were put out on the street in her absence. These bedbug infested possessions were thus spread to the community
The tenant’s attorney argued that the property owner was well aware of the problem even before the tenant moved in. He ignored the complaints of other tenants about bedbug problems and rented to the tenant with the full knowledge that the unit was inhabitable. Records do show that the property owner did take steps in August 2011 to remedy a mice and potential bedbug infestation. Obviously, he was not fully successful.
Bedbugs are a difficult problem to deal with. Treatments, though largely effective, are not guaranteed to kill every single last bedbug. However, the property owner showed a great failure to act properly in this situation. He failed to use qualified licensed professionals to deal with the problem initially. He ignored the complaints of his tenants and instead, took vindictive steps. He failed to inform a new tenant of bedbug problems before they moved in.
Sometimes, bedbugs unfortunately are brought into residences accidentally. What is important is that landlords actively work with their tenants to resolve the problem. Additionally, landlords have the responsibility of disclosing this type of information to new tenants. When landlords fail to do this, tenants have the right to hold them accountable for their actions and inactions. Landlords must deal with infestations and as this case shows, the general public agrees.
On the heels of this case, residents from two Des Moines apartment buildings are attempting to move forward with a class-action lawsuit over a bedbug infestation. This would mark the nation’s first class-action case against apartment owners and managers regarding bedbugs.
Landlord tenant laws about bedbug infestations are not necessarily changing. However, awareness and expectations for landlords to deal with them are. This will inadvertently lead to more and more cases of tenants seeking compensation for compensatory and punitive damages. Our San Francisco based firm has experience in these types of landlord tenant cases and would work with your in resolving your own bedbug problem. Call today for a free consultation to get started with dealing with your pesky bedbug problem