Bed bug infestations have become a problem of epidemic proportions. Initially, reports were coming in from major cities across the western world. But today, bed bugs are found in hotels and motels everywhere. Small town and country motels are not exempt from this problem. Realtors have benefited by the highly transient nature of our modern communities, but now they also suffer from the effects of that same culture. People are on the go worldwide and as they go, bed bugs are hitching a ride! Realtors and property managers can be sued when a bed bug infestation is transferred to an unsuspecting property purchaser or apartment renter. You can minimize the likelihood of a successful legal action by taking preventative and rapid treatment measures against bed bugs. Being armed with bed bug information such as that provided here, working closely with a professional pest control company and putting legal and documented procedures in place will greatly help to avoid bed bug related problems and lawsuits. See Bed Bug Law – Major Legal Topics for a quick understanding of the overarching principles of law used in bed bug cases. These include negligence, misrepresentation, code violation. Additional topics include implied warranty of habitability and the doctrine of constructive eviction.

Habitability of the Home or Apartment

Realtors, landlords and property managers often face lawsuits from their clients, based on the principles of the implied warranty of habitability (IWH) and constructive eviction. The idea behind the IWH is that when someone buys a home or rents an apartment, the residence should be safe enough to be fit for human use.1 Generally, the IWH applies to new houses, condominiums, and apartments, in both written and spoken agreements.2 However, on occasion it also has been extended to commercial leases.3 Regarding bed bugs, courts have found that bed bug infestations breached the IWH, which entitled the renter or owner to damages from physical injuries or a partial refund of rent.4 In many cases the builder or landlord must be notified of the situation, in order to give them a chance to fix the situation before legal action is taken.5 The IWH has also been successfully used as a defense under a state law, when a landlord tried to sue for the non-payment of rent.6 The IWH is more flexible than the doctrine of CE because it has fewer requirements.7 However, the IWH can not always be used in a court case. Because of this, discussion of the doctrine of CE is still necessary. Please consult your local attorney before taking action, and to find out if the IWH applies to your specific situation. CE occurs when, “any disturbance of the tenant’s possession by the landlord, or someone acting under his authority, which renders the premises unfit for occupancy for the purposes for which they were devised or which deprives the tenant of the beneficial enjoyment of the premises, causing him to abandon them, amounts to a CE, provided the tenant abandons the premises within a reasonable time. In such situations, the tenant may terminate the lease and seek damages.8 Simply stated, when a condition exists that makes the unit unfit to live in, the tenant must leave and may not be required to pay a portion of the rent if this is done within a reasonable time. In several cases, courts have stated that a condition which satisfies this must be “intolerable”, not created or fixable by the tenant, and some wrongful act was committed by the landlord.9 This means that just because bed bugs exist does not necessarily mean CE applies. The other requirements above must also be satisfied. Generally, courts take several factors into account when deciding on whether CE was allowed, including: the time of the infestation, the conduct of the landlord, the conduct of the tenant, the time vacated, the time a complaint was given, and the severity of the condition.10 Furthermore, the factors listed above may limit the amount of money the tenant can receive. An example of this is if the condition was not very severe and the tenant did not leave for a long period of time, the court may find these factors cut against the tenant and decrease the sum awarded. Because of the variety of factors, requirements, state and federal regulations, in addition to each situation being different, consult with an attorney before taking action. For more information on constructive eviction and possible exceptions, see the “realtor and property management issues” section.

Negligence

As a general rule, when bed bugs infest an apartment, the landlord or property manager has a duty to correct the problem in order to maintain compliance with health and other codes, which can affect suits such as negligence. States have a variety of standards, so consult with a lawyer to be sure the proper measures are being taken.11 In order to comply with these codes, property managers have been able to evict tenants for bringing in bed bugs, or refusing to comply with bed bug control programs.12 This seems to put an emphasis on doing what is best for the apartment complex, and to minimize the amount of damage a bed bug infestation can create. Constructive eviction may be used where it is required to solve a bed bug problem, however: “Ordinarily, a tenant is not constructively evicted because of the presence of vermin in or about the premises in the absence of a covenant (i.e. agreement) by the landlord to keep the premises free from vermin. This is especially true where the premises were leased in their then present condition, where the vermin might have been exterminated by the tenant, where the tenant afforded the landlord no opportunity so to do, or where the landlord could not have exterminated them without trespassing.”13 Simply stated, if the tenant buys the apartment knowing of the bed bugs, there is no agreement saying the landlord should prevent bed bugs from infesting, or the landlord has not been notified or allowed to fix the problem, constructive eviction may not apply. 1 49 Am. Jur. 2d Landlord and Tenant � 449 (2009). 2 Id. citing Estate of Vazquez v. Hepner, 564, N.W.2d, 426 (1997). 3 57 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 3d 127 � 1 (2008). 4 Ludlow Properties, LLC v. Young, 780, N.Y.S.2d, 853 (2004). 5 3 COA 379 Cause of Action for Breach of Implied Warranty of Habitability of Residence (2008). 6 Hutchins v. Peabody, 151, N.H. A.2d, 82-85 (2004). 7 Lemle v. Breeden, 51, Haw. 426, 475 (1969). 8 J. F. Ghent., Infestation of leased dwelling or apartment with vermin as entitling tenant to abandon premises or as constructive eviction by landlord, in absence of express covenant of habitability, 27 A.L.R.3d 924, � 2a (Originally published in 1969). & 49 Am. Jur. 2d Landlord and Tenant � 598 (2009). 9 Ray Realty Co. v Holtzman, 234, Mo App, 802 (1938)., Barnard Realty Co. v Bonwit, 155, App Div, 182 (1913)., Streep v Simpson, 80, Misc, 666 (1913)., Hancock Constr. Co. v Bassinger, 198, NYS, 614 (1923)., Leo v Santagada, 45, Misc 2d, 309 (1964)., Leech v Husbands, 34. Del, 362 (1930) cited in 27 A.L.R.3d 924. 10 J. F. Ghent., Infestation of leased dwelling…, 27 A.L.R.3d 924, � 12a-16 (Originally published in 1969). 11 (72 book). 12 Id. 13 52A C.J.S. Landlord & Tenant � 969 & Jacobs v. Morand, 59, Misc., 200 (1908). *Disclaimer: None of the information above is meant to be legal advice, the information above was written by a law student and not an attorney, always seek an attorney before taking action* Call today at 1-800-986-1006 for help with a bed bug infestation. You’re also welcome to complete the form below and a caring Hearts Pest Management representative will contact you shortly.
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