Trusted Advice. Assertive Advocacy.

Going Buggy! Unfortunately, Landlords Are Still Unfamiliar with Bed Bug Infestation Statute

| Jan 5, 2020 | Firm News |

On May 26, 2016 our state legislature enacted House Bill Number 5335, Public Act Number 16–51 entitled, “An Act concerning the Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords and Tenants Regarding the Treatment of Bedbug Infestations”.  Since then, the Act has been codified as Connecticut General Statutes section 47a-7a (I have attached a copy for the reader’s consideration).  I affectionately call it the “Bed Bug Statute”.

Incredibly, three years after its enactment, many landlords are still not familiar with the Bed Bug Statute and how it works. I receive numerous calls throughout the year indicating that tenants are uncooperative or failed to prepare for bedbug treatments. In fact, many landlord’s express frustration because when one tenant is uncooperative, the problem continues to spread throughout their buildings.  This is where the Bed Bug Statute can come in handy. While I will not address every provision of the Statute in this article, I do want to touch upon some of the important portions and how landlords should address them when dealing with a bedbug problem.

While the statute requires the tenant to promptly notify their landlord orally or in writing when the tenant knows or suspects of the bedbug problem, often the landlord finds out about the problem from a neighbor, during a routine inspection, or in some other informal fashion (e.g. after a notice to quit is filed, surprising right?), many times, the tenant is not the notifying party.  In my view, how the landlord finds out is not important, just that the landlord has notice. In any event, once a landlord hears about the problem, most landlords will inspect the premises and then commence treatment if a problem is found. However, the Bed Bug Statute requires a landlord to provide notice to the tenant within two days of inspection indicating whether or not that bugs have been found to be present. This notice requires the landlord to indicate whether or not the unit is infested with bed bugs and inform the tenant that if the tenant is still concerned that the unit is infested with bedbugs, that the tenant may contact the local health department and the landlord shall provide relevant contact information on said notice. To date, I have not received any information from a client that they provided this notice and in particular, the contact information for the city. In addition to the notice, if the unit inspection determines that there are bedbugs, the landlord shall treat the bedbug infestation within five days. The statute goes on to indicate that the landlord “shall be responsible for all costs associated with inspection for and treatment of bedbug infestation.” Obviously, many clients become upset knowing that they have to pay for these treatments when the condition is caused by tenants. Unfortunately, when an outbreak occurs, it is difficult if not impossible, to identify the cause of the outbreak.

Another issue which landlords find of concern is the inability to enter the premises because of an uncooperative tenant, and/or the tenant is not prepared properly for the bedbug treatment, thereby impairing the effectiveness of the pest control procedures. The Bed Bug Statute does contemplate this scenario and states that a tenant must “comply with reasonable measures to permit the inspection and treatment of the bedbug infestation… And such tenant shall be responsible for all costs associated with preparing a dwelling unit for such inspection and treatment. The tenants knowing and unreasonable failure to comply with such bedbug inspection and treatment measures shall result in the tenant being held liable for those bed bug treatments of the dwelling unit and  contiguous units arising from such failure.” Landlords should be cognizant of their obligation to offer to make reasonable assistance available to any tenant who is not physically able to comply with the preparation for any bed bug inspection or treatment measures that are the tenant’s responsibility. As a matter of good business practice, this obligation should be conveyed to the tenant, in writing, as the language of the statute uses the term “shall offer” but does not indicate in what form. Prudence leads me to conclude that this offer should be in writing. There are additional requirements for the notice, including disclosing the cost of providing the assistance and the landlord may, at their discretion, charge the tenant a reasonable amount for such assistance, provided such charge is subject to a reasonable repayment schedule not to exceed six months, unless the landlord and tenant agree to one or more extensions of such repayment schedule. Note, failure to repay the charges does not relieve the landlord of the duty to treat the unit, nor does it give the landlord the right to terminate the lease for nonpayment. Rather, should payment not be made under this agreed provision, the landlord may deduct such sums from the tenant security deposit in accordance with C.G.S. 47a-21.

Finally, landlords who encounter obstinate tenants who are unwilling to comply with reasonable requests for entry, inspections, preparation and/or treatments can rely upon subsection (2) of the Bed Bug Statute to apply to the Superior Court to obtain injunctive relief. Many landlords are not familiar with the procedures permitting injunctive relief under C.G. S. §47a-18, but essentially the process allows an expedited hearing in which the tenant must show cause as to why an injunction should not issue, thereby permitting the landlord to address the bedbug problem. The statute goes on to provide the measures of relief that a landlord may request.  This procedure requires service of a Verified Complaint (meaning sworn to by the plaintiff) and service of the Verified Complaint and a Show Cause Order with an application for injunctive relief with the court.

Conclusion / Practice Tip:  Landlords should be aware that the strongest cases are founded upon great paperwork. Landlords should be conscious of the obligation to provide notices as set forth in statute and should document in writing the outcomes of the investigations for bedbugs in the notices provided in order to permit the tenants to contest the findings as set forth in the statute. Further, all pest control records should be kept available should the landlord need to avail herself of the injunctive relief set forth in the statute.  As always, I recommend that you have an experienced and qualified attorney to help you with your problem tenants and to protect you from documentation and notice mistakes that can cost you money and delay your bedbug eradication procedures or to file your Verified Complaint and Injunctive Relief Orders.  Happy New Year and, may 2020 bring you good tenants, good health, lots of success and much happiness!

Here is a copy of the Bed Bug Statute:

Sec. 47a-7a. Landlord and tenant responsibilities re bed bug infestations. Definitions. Notification to landlord. Inspection. Treatment. Liability of landlord. Injunction against tenant. (a) As used in this section:

(1) “Certified applicator” means an individual who is certified, in accordance with section 22a-54, by the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection to perform application within this state of a pesticide or class of pesticides;

(2) “Bed bug” means the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius);

(3) “Bed bug detection team” means a scent detection canine team that holds a current, independent, third-party certification in accordance with the guidelines for Minimum Standards for Canine Bed Bug Detection Team Certification established by the National Pest Management Association;

(4) “Landlord”, “owner”, “person” and “tenant” have the same meanings as in section 47a-1;

(5) “Qualified inspector” means a certified applicator, local health department official or bed bug detection team retained by a landlord to conduct an inspection for an infestation of bed bugs;

(6) “Pest control agent” means a person who is a certified applicator or who is otherwise specially licensed or qualified to treat bed bug infestations; and

(7) “Dwelling unit” means a unit other than a single-family unattached unit that is occupied as a home or residence for one or more persons.

(b) (1) A tenant shall promptly notify a landlord orally or in writing when the tenant knows or reasonably suspects that the tenant’s dwelling unit is infested with bed bugs. Not later than five business days after receiving such notice, the landlord shall inspect or obtain an inspection by a qualified inspector of the dwelling unit and any contiguous unit of which the landlord is an owner, lessor or sublessor, and may enter any such dwelling unit or contiguous unit for the purpose of conducting such inspection as provided in subparagraph (A) of subdivision (2) of this subsection. If the landlord conducts the inspection, the landlord must provide written notice to the tenant within two days indicating whether or not the unit is infested with bed bugs. The notice shall inform the tenant that, if the tenant is still concerned that the unit is infested with bed bugs, the tenant may contact the local health department and shall provide relevant contact information on said notice. If the inspection determines that any such dwelling unit or contiguous unit is infested with bed bugs, the landlord shall, not later than five business days after the date of the inspection, take reasonable measures, as determined by such qualified inspector, to effectively treat the bed bug infestation, including treating or retaining the services of a pest control agent to treat the dwelling unit and any contiguous unit of which the landlord is an owner, lessor or sublessor, except the landlord may first attempt to effectively treat such infestation. If the landlord treats such bed bug infestation without retaining the services of a pest control agent, the landlord shall first vacuum the areas to be treated and shall, not later than five business days after the date of such treatment, obtain an inspection of any treated unit by a qualified inspector. If the qualified inspector determines that any such unit is not infested with bed bugs, the qualified inspector shall provide the landlord with a written certification of such determination. If the qualified inspector determines that any such unit is infested with bed bugs, the landlord shall, not later than five business days after the date of such inspection, retain the services of a pest control agent. Except as otherwise provided in this section, the landlord shall be responsible for all costs associated with inspection for and treatment of a bed bug infestation. Nothing in this section shall be construed to preclude a tenant from contacting any agency at any time concerning an infestation of bed bugs.

(2) (A) Upon reasonable written or oral notice to a tenant in accordance with the provisions of section 47a-16 that a landlord, qualified inspector or pest control agent must enter a dwelling unit for the purpose of conducting an inspection for, or treating an infestation of, bed bugs, a tenant shall not unreasonably withhold access to the dwelling unit. Any entry to a dwelling unit shall be made in accordance with the provisions of section 47a-16.

(B) The landlord or qualified inspector may initially conduct a visual and manual inspection of the tenant’s bedding and upholstered furniture. The landlord or qualified inspector may inspect items other than bedding and upholstered furniture when such landlord or qualified inspector determines that such an inspection is necessary and reasonable. If the landlord or qualified inspector finds bed bugs in the dwelling unit or in any contiguous unit of which the landlord is an owner, lessor or sublessor, such landlord or qualified inspector may have such additional access to the tenant’s personal belongings as the landlord or qualified inspector determines is necessary and reasonable. A tenant shall comply with reasonable measures to permit the inspection and treatment of a bed bug infestation as determined by the landlord and qualified inspector or pest control agent, and such tenant shall be responsible for all costs associated with preparing a dwelling unit for such inspection and treatment. The tenant’s knowing and unreasonable failure to comply with such bed bug inspection and treatment measures shall result in the tenant being held liable for those bed bug treatments of the dwelling unit and contiguous units arising from such failure.

(C) Whenever any furniture, clothing, equipment or personal property belonging to a tenant is found to be infested with bed bugs, such furniture, clothing, equipment or personal property shall not be removed from the dwelling unit until a pest control agent determines that a bed bug treatment has been completed, or until the landlord approves of such removal.

(3) (A) A landlord shall offer to make reasonable assistance available to a tenant who is not physically able to comply with preparation for any bed bug inspection or treatment measures that are the tenant’s responsibility under this section. The landlord shall disclose to the tenant the cost, if any, of providing such assistance to the tenant. The landlord may, at the landlord’s discretion, charge the tenant a reasonable amount for any such assistance, provided such charge is subject to a reasonable repayment schedule not to exceed six months, unless the landlord and tenant agree to one or more extensions of such repayment schedule. A tenant’s failure to agree to any such charges or repayment schedule shall not relieve the landlord of the duty to treat the dwelling unit.

(B) A tenant’s failure to make any payment required pursuant to a repayment schedule shall not be the basis for a summary process action initiated pursuant to chapter 832. At the termination of a tenancy, a landlord may deduct any remaining payments owed under a repayment schedule from a security deposit in accordance with the provisions of section 47a-21.

(C) Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a landlord to provide a tenant with alternative lodging or to pay to replace the tenant’s personal property. Nothing in this section shall be construed to preempt or restrict application of the provisions of chapter 814c or any other state or federal law concerning reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.

(c) No landlord shall offer for rent a dwelling unit that the landlord knows or reasonably suspects is infested with bed bugs. Before renting a dwelling unit, a landlord shall disclose to a prospective tenant whether the unit the landlord is offering for rent or any contiguous unit of which the landlord is an owner, lessor or sublessor is currently infested with bed bugs. Upon request from a tenant or prospective tenant, a landlord shall disclose the last date on which the dwelling unit being rented or offered for rent was inspected for, and found to be free of, a bed bug infestation.

(d) (1) If any landlord fails to comply with the provisions of this section, then any tenant may proceed as provided in section 47a-12 or section 47a-14h. Any landlord who fails to comply with the provisions of this section shall be liable to the tenant for reasonable attorneys’ fees and the greater of two hundred fifty dollars or the tenant’s actual damages.

(2) A landlord may apply to the Superior Court to obtain injunctive relief in accordance with section 47a-18 and to obtain such other relief as may be appropriate against a tenant who (A) refuses to provide reasonable access to a dwelling unit, (B) fails to comply with reasonable requests for inspection or treatment of a dwelling unit, or (C) fails to implement reasonable inspection and treatment measures required pursuant to subsection (b) of this section. The entry fee for such an action shall be the same as the entry fee for a small claims case. If a court finds that a tenant has unreasonably failed to comply with this section, the court may issue a temporary order or interim relief to carry out the provisions of this section, including, but not limited to: (i) Granting the landlord access to the dwelling unit for the purposes set forth in this section; (ii) granting the landlord the right to engage in bed bug inspection and treatment measures; and (iii) requiring the tenant to comply with specific bed bug inspection and treatment measures or assessing the tenant with costs and damages related to the tenant’s noncompliance. Any order granting a landlord access to a dwelling unit shall be served upon the tenant at least twenty-four hours before a landlord, qualified inspector or pest control agent enters the dwelling unit.

(3) The remedies in this section shall be in addition to any other remedies available at law, or in equity, to any person. This section shall not be construed to limit or restrict the authority of any state or local housing or health code enforcement agency.

(P.A. 16-51, S. 1.)