No one wants bed bugs in their properties, but for some rental property owners and tenants they are a fact of life. Because owners are under a duty to ensure their properties are safe and habitable, they are required to address bed bug problems when they arise.
Recently enacted bed bug laws now require California rental property owners and managers (hereafter referred to as just “owners” or “property owners”) to take on additional duties and responsibilities. The new laws, which go into effect in 2017 and 2018, require owners to make new bed bug disclosures, while prohibiting owners from retaliating and renting units known to be infested with bed bugs. Tenants, under the new law, must cooperate with inspections and treatment of bed bugs.
This CalPCG Q&A Series article will help owners understand the new bed bug duties and responsibilities.
Overview of California’s New Bed Bug Laws
Under the new California laws that become effective in 2017 and 2018, owners will have the following new duties and responsibilities:
Bed Bug Disclosure: Starting 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: a) general information about bed bug identification; b) behavior and biology; c) importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment; d) importance of and for prompt written reporting of suspected infestations to the landlord; and e) 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 is set forth on the last page of this Q&A.
Written notice to tenants after inspection: Whenever a dwelling unit is inspected for bed bugs by a pest control operator (PCO) (licensed by the State Structural Pest Control Board), owners are required to provide the tenants of those units with a report containing the PCO’s findings. The notification must be in writing and made within two business days of receipt of the PCO’s findings. This provision is effective January 1, 2017.
Common area infestations: When a PCO confirms a bed bug infestation in a common area (including building hallways, shared laundry rooms and staircases, elevators, designated garbage areas and laundry rooms), all tenants must be provided notice of the PCO’s findings. This provision is effective January 1, 2017.
Vacant dwelling units with infestations: Rental property owners may not show, rent, or lease to a prospective tenant any vacant dwelling unit that the owner knows has a current bed bug infestation.
NOTE: Owners are not under a duty to inspect a dwelling unit or the common areas of the premises for bed bugs if the owner 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 be on notice about the infestation. (Civil Code Section 1954.603.) This provision is effective January 1, 2017.
Retaliation is prohibited: The new bed big law reiterates longstanding law prohibiting owners from retaliating against tenants who make tenantability complaints to the owner or an agency of government (local health department). The law was amended merely to state that retaliation protections include complaints about bed bugs. Generally speaking this is a clarification of law. 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 should rental property owners provide the written notice* to tenants?
Remember, there are two different compliance dates for providing the written notice. By July 1, 2017, new tenants must be provided the written notice before they begin their tenancy. The written notice should be included in the lease documents, and provided directly to the prospective tenant.
By January 1, 2018, all existing tenants must be provided the written notice. The easiest method for providing the notice is by posting the notice in a conspicuous place in a common area, for example at an entrance to and from the property. Other methods to disclose the written notice includes: personal delivery, posting at the door of every tenant, USPS mail or email.
What is the proper way to inform tenants about a PCO’s findings from a bed bug inspection of the premises?
When a tenant reports to an owner of a suspected bed bug problem, the owner should act promptly, conduct an inspection and hire a PCO to inspect the premises. Whether an infestation does or does not exist according to the PCO’s findings, owners are under a duty to report the PCO’s written findings to the tenants of the unit that was inspected within two business days. The PCO’s written findings may be left by the PCO upon completion of the inspection. As an alternative of the PCO leaving the written findings in the unit that was inspected, the owner may provide the PCO’s finding by mail, email, personal delivery, or posting on the front door of the premises.
To ensure the PCO leaves a report of his or her findings in the unit, the owner should require as part of the contract to perform the inspection the PCO to do so. The best approach is to require a PCO to provide the tenant with a report as part of his or her contract term for service. Owners should also require the PCO’s to be given a copy of the written findings and the date the written findings were delivered. Should the PCO find evidence of bed bugs, a cost estimate should only be provided to the owner. The PCO should also be required to provide the owner samples of written findings prior to being retained.
Tenants are required by state law to cooperate with the inspection to “facilitate the detection and treatments of bed bugs, including providing requested information that is necessary to facilitate the detection and treatment of bed bugs to the PCO.” Failure to cooperate should constitute a material breach of contract.
Ultimately, it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that tenants have received the inspection report.
What is the best way to notify tenants of common area infestations?
When a bed bug infestation is discovered in a common area and confirmed by a PCO, notice regarding the PCO’s findings must be provided to “all tenants”. The notice can be: posted in a conspicuous place in the area in which the bed bugs were found; mailed or emailed to the tenants, posted on the door of each tenant or personally delivered. The notice should state where and when the bed bugs were found, and the PCO’s findings. Once again, the cost of treatment is not required to be disclosed to tenants.
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.
Copyright © 2016 California Political Consulting Group
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.
For more information about bed bugs, see the Internet Web sites of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Pest Management Association.