Anyone who’s ever lived with bed bugs will likely tell you it was one of the worst experiences of his or her life. Bed bugs may not carry disease, but some people react to their bites by developing itchy red welts that resemble flea bites.
Infestations are notoriously difficult to treat. If not detected early, bed bugs can take over entire buildings, moving easily from one unit to the next. Unless all infested units are treated simultaneously, they’re guaranteed to return.
In California, all residential leases include an implied warranty of habitability, which means all rental units must meet certain very basic living standards. These standards include the landlord’s promise to, among other things, keep all areas under control of the landlord clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin. A recently passed state law requires landlords to provide tenants with written information about bed bugs and how to report suspected infestations. It also:
- Prohibits vacant units with active infestations from being shown,
- Makes it illegal for landlords to retaliate against tenants who report bed bugs, and
- Requires landlords to notify tenants within two days of a pest inspector uncovering an infestation.
When pest control company Orkin surveyed the cities it had treated in terms of outbreak frequency and severity, San Francisco ranked tenth. (Los Angeles came in at fourth.) The list was created using information from all of the company’s bed bug treatment calls between December 2015 and November 2016.
If you are a Bay Area renter and are unlucky enough to discover bed bugs in your rental unit, what can you do?
The good news is that San Francisco’s bed bug regulations are more stringent than state law. If a prospective tenant inquires about bed bugs, the landlord must provide a written history of the unit’s infestation and treatment history (even if there were no outbreaks) for the past two years. When an existing tenant complains, a landlord or property manager must hire a licensed exterminator to inspect the rental unit and those in the immediate area. If a problem exists, it is fully the landlord’s responsibility to handle the extermination process.
California law makes requires a landlord to provide and maintain residential rental units in a condition fit for human habitation, regardless of ability to pay for necessary maintenance and repairs. Claiming that bed bug treatments are too expensive is simply not an option.
Landlords often look to blame tenants for bed bug problems, claiming the tenant either brought the pests into the building or did not timely report the issue. Landlords have “constructive notice” of a bed bug problem if the infestation would have been discovered during a reasonable inspection. This means the landlord is liable for all the consequences.
Do not listen to a landlord who tells you it is your responsibility to remedy a bed bug infestation. State law requires landlords to provide tenants with rental units free from vermin, and they must remedy bed bug problems at their expense. If your landlord is trying tries to pass bed bug extermination costs on to you, fight back.
Although California tenants can legally withhold rent when the conditions of the rental unit are uninhabitable, we never recommend this option. Doing so invites a landlord to serve the tenant with a notice to pay rent or quit, which may be followed by an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit. Although a breach of the warranty to provide habitable premises is a defense, tenants are best off avoiding unlawful detainer actions in the first place.
If you have bed bugs and your landlord is refusing to cooperate, contact Tenant Law Group, PC immediately. We are one of the few Bay Area law firms dedicated exclusively to the practice of tenant rights law and will take all available steps to assist you in living in a bed bug-free environment.