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It happens all too often: A tenant wakes up one day with a row of mysterious bites. They check online and start to suspect bed bugs but face a hard decision.
This post will help you navigate through the important questions and answer them.
Who Is To Blame For Bed Bugs
Many a landlord has claimed that they should not be held responsible for infestations.
Many have tried to pass the cost of professional bed bug treatment to tenants by claiming that they cannot afford the cost and must be subsidized by tenants who supposedly brought them in.
If you’ve spent time reading articles on this site, you know that it is close to impossible to isolate where bed bugs came from once they’ve settled in.
Finding them in your own home is already a task. Expecting every tenant to check periodically is unrealistic.
They may have come from the neighboring apartment complex, a single tenant who visited an infested relative, or from a piece of furniture dumped out front of the property.
By the time anyone shows noticeable symptoms, they’ve likely already spread to other rooms and units days ago.
With this reality in mind, the responsibility to pay and fix the issue falls upon the landlord.
Landlord And Tenant Rights With Bed Bugs
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued rules and guidelines prohibiting landlords from charging or subsidizing the cost of bed bug treatment specifically.
We’ll explain those rules shortly, but first, it is important to know what landlords and tenants are obligated to do at a minimum in California.
California’s Landlord Obligations State Law
The Landlord Obligations Law of California Civil Code Section 1941.1, stipulates that landlords must provide and maintain:
- Weather protection of the roof, exterior walls, windows, and doors
- Plumbing and gas facilities
- An adequate supply of hot and cold running water
- Heat and electrical system, including working lighting, wiring, and equipment
- Clean premises free of rubbish, filth, garbage and vermin
- Adequate trash containers
- Maintained floors, stairways, and railings
California’s Tenant Obligations State Law
The Tenant Obligations Law of California Civil Code Section 1941.2, requires that the tenant:
- Keep the unit clean and sanitary (Remember: Tidiness does not keep bed bugs away.)
- Dispose of rubbish in a sanitary manner
- Properly use plumbing and electrical fixtures
- Not willfully destroy the unit
- Use the rooms for their intended use
- Personally repair damage caused by their own acts or neglect, IF
- The tenant “substantially violated” the tenant’s obligations, and
- The violation “substantially contributes” to the defective condition.
Illegal Retaliation by the Landlord
It’s also good to know that retaliation by the landlord is illegal in cases where a tenant must take matters into their own hands.
California Civil Code Section 1942.5 prohibits a landlord from retaliating against a tenant if the tenant:
- Calls a governmental agency for an inspection
- Organizes other tenants
- Requests that the landlord make repairs (or in our case, treat bed bugs)
What California’s Bed Bug Laws Mean
Landlords who try to pass the cost of bed bug treatment on to tenants are violating their legal obligation to maintain the property.
California Civil Code Section 1941.1 specifically protects tenants from landlord turning a blind eye regarding vermin, which certainly includes bed bugs.
California offers protections specifically from bed bugs to renters in several forms. Knowing them is important as they are your rights as a renter.
Retaliation By Landlords Is Illegal
Bed bugs should be reported as soon as they are suspected to safeguard the entire building and even neighboring buildings.
To encourage this, the State ensures that landlords can’t use scare tactics to avoid dealing with bed bugs.
In the greater picture, reporting bed bugs early saves everyone money and stress, including the landlord.
Defending Yourself With Rent
Tenants have the legal right to withhold rent when the landlord fails to maintain habitable conditions.
This is what’s called an Affirmative Defense to an unlawful detainer.
Filing Bed Bug Lawsuits Against Landlords
Tenants can file suit against landlords who fail to maintain rental units in habitable premises.
The tenant must prove that:
- Defects exist that violate California Civil Code Section 1941.1
- The owner had actual or constructive notice
- The tenant suffered damages
Disclaimer: Consult with a licensed attorney at law before considering taking any action to court. Information found on this page is informational, not legal advice.
Who Pays For Bed Bug Treatment
California’s Landlord Obligations Law and the case of Knight v. Hallsthammar establish that a landlord is obligated to provide and maintain residential rental premises in a habitable condition, regardless of the landlord’s financial ability, financial condition, or the availability of funds for necessary repairs and maintenance.
This means that a landlord saying, “I don’t have the money,” is not a valid excuse.
Sometimes landlords engage in willful negligence, saying that the tenant never provided the landlord with notice of the infestation.
Peterson v. Superior Court held that a landlord has “constructive notice” if a reasonable inspection would have revealed the defect.
Constructive notice represents the idea that whether or not a person or entity actually knows something, they are liable for its consequences if they reasonably should have have known.
The act of not knowing is negligence in itself on the part of the property owner, and is not the fault of the tenant.
In most cases, the landlord is legally required to pay for bed bug treatment in California.
- If your new unit came with bed bugs, you are protected from paying under the law.
- If you reported the problem and received no assistance or attempts to fix the situation, you are protected under the law.
- If the problem is simply out of hand and any reasonable person could tell there has been a problem, you are protected under the law.
New California Bed Bug Protections
I recently wrote about a newly enacted amendment to Section 1942.5.
You can read about it here: California’s New Bed Bug Laws.
Or, you can get the skinny on the update with this infographic:
For more useful guides and graphics like the above, give the free Debedbug Ebook a look!
Thanks For Reading!
As always, congratulations on investing in your own health and learning your rights. Best of luck in your fight towards getting and staying Debedbugged!