Ask Lucas

Ask Lucas 029: Are Bedbugs a Landlord’s Responsibility?

Summary:

Gwen from London is asking about her obligations to eradicate bedbugs from her rental in New York City. The bedbugs appeared after the tenant moved in, and she suspects the tenant brought them in to unit. What should she do?

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Transcript:

Lucas: Hello and welcome to the twenty-ninth episode of Ask Lucas. Today, we’re answering a question from Gwen, who’s calling in from London; very jealous that you’re there. She is asking about bedbugs and who is responsible for getting rid of them. It’s a great question, and as many of you know, if you’ve been a landlord for the last couple of years, that bedbugs have taken the country by storm. They are very difficult to get rid of, and a lot of states have passed laws about it. We’re going to discuss that today.

I’m Lucas Hall, and this is a bite-sized Q and A show where I answer your questions about landlording and property management. To participate, it’s very simple. If you have a question, just leave a recorded message on AskLucas.com or call us and leave us a voicemail and we will try to answer it in this podcast if it’s applicable to a larger audience.

Before we get started, I wanted to tell you about our sponsor. Ask Lucas is brought to you by Cozy. Cozy is modern property management software that you can use to screen tenants with full credit reports and background checks and collect rent online. It is truly simple and it’s completely free, and it is the company behind Landlordology. I use it to self-manage all of my properties, and my tenants completely love it. Check it out for yourself. It’s Cozy.co. Now let’s hear what Gwen has to say.

Gwen: Oh, hi Lucas. My name is Gwen. I’m actually calling you from London, but I have an apartment in New York. I wanted to ask you about bedbugs. I have a tenant who is brand new. She moved in, and very, very shortly after, reported to me that there were bedbugs in the flat. Now, before she was there, I had tenants for a very long time, and they never had any problems. Actually, I had stayed there for a week right before her tenancy started and I didn’t have any problems. But now it looks like I’m going to spend thousands of dollars to treat these bedbugs. Can you tell me more about what my obligations are?

Lucas: Hey, Gwen. Thanks for your question. Yes, bedbugs are a huge issue in New York City. In fact, according to Terminex and the number of calls they receive, it is actually the third most dense area in the United States for bedbugs. It is a major issue, but there are over a thousand different providers in New York City that will handle and mitigate this problem for you, so you have a lot to choose from, and there is hope.

To date, there are about twenty-two states that currently have some sort of regulation about bedbugs. Really, the answer to your question is your obligations depend on your state laws. I hate to say that, because they’re going to be different in each state, but in New York, specifically for you, unfortunately, the landlord is always responsible. That is just in New York. It could be in other states, too, but I know specifically in New York, the landlord is always responsible. That’s just something that New York City decided to make that law, and it’s actually under the Housing and Maintenance Code, sub-chapter two, article four, that says the landlord is legally obligated to eradicate the bedbugs regardless of really what caused it.

But if you are one of the other states, you know, for others listening, if you had bedbugs and you don’t live in a state that regulates it or requires a landlord to actually deal with the issue, then you can ask yourself a couple questions. One, for example, make sure that it actually is bedbugs. Sometimes a tenant will call and just say, “Hey, I’ve got bedbugs,” but in fact, it could be fleas or roaches. Sometimes they don’t know what a bedbug looks like, and so roaches sometimes look similar. Make sure that you’re actually dealing with bedbugs before you spend thousands of dollars on a service technician.

Two, consider how they got there. Look at the situation and say, okay. You know, Gwen, in your case, you know there weren’t any bedbugs there before the tenant moved in, but then they happened to just show up. You didn’t bring them in. The house was actually clean, or the flat was clean and bedbug-free before the tenant moved in. You look at it and you say, “Okay, well where’d they come from?”

When a technician actually comes out, you might want to have a conversation with the technician and just say, you can do it over the phone or whatever, and just say, “Hey, listen, can you try to diagnose the source of this problem?” Oftentimes, they’ll say something like, “Oh, yeah. I found a nest of bedbugs underneath their luggage or in their luggage,” or something like that. Clearly, they picked it up from a property or hotel that they were visiting recently on travel, which is actually the way that bedbugs typically spread, is they travel through suitcases and through moving. People who travel a lot for work, they’ll bring them home in their suitcase, or if you moved from another property that had bedbugs, they’ll come in the furniture or come in the clothes or something like that.

You certainly want to deal with, perhaps, the source. If you are in a state that does not regulate bedbug eradication and you can prove that the tenant brought it in, then you can actually charge the tenant for the bedbug remediation. That’s really important to know because it can be super expensive. Chances are, the tenant probably won’t want to pay for it, but you can either send them a bill for it or you can hold it from their deposit at the end of the lease and deal with it that way.

If you’re not sure or you can’t prove it, then you really should just take care of it as a landlord. That is because, as a landlord, you are offering the implied warranty of habitability. That is a clause or a obligation that is just built into every single lease, whether you write it in there or not. It means that they have a safe place to live. If it’s got a lot of bedbugs, then it’s not a safe place to live.

If you’re unsure about what your state laws are, you can actually go check out the National Conference of State [Legislatures 00:06:00]. That’s a website called ncsl.org. They have a bedbug page that actually goes through the actual laws for bedbugs in the twenty-two states that have regulated it so far. You can also check out Landlordology.com/state-laws or Landlordology.com/bedbugs and we’ll tell you a lot more information about this issue and what you can do about it.

I hope that answers your question. Again, unfortunately for you, you just have to deal with it because you’re in New York, but anyone in a different state might have some better luck at being able to mitigate that cost back to the tenant if it was the tenant’s fault. Thanks again. I hope the situation improves, and that you can get rid of this easily. Take care. Bye.

About Lucas Hall

Lucas is the Chief Landlordologist at Cozy. He has been a successful landlord for over 10 years, with dozens of happy tenants and a profitable income property portfolio.
Read more about Lucas's story.

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