Bed bug infestations in rental units are an itchy, crawling nightmare for landlords and tenants alike. The bed bug’s preferred meal is human blood, and bed bugs are particularly well-adapted for getting it. They thrive at temperatures near seventy degrees, they’re nocturnal, and they can hide in even the smallest cracks. Their immunity to most pesticides and ability to live for a year or more without a meal make bed bugs hard to kill.
As one of many states seeing an uptick in bed bug infestations in rental units, New Hampshire recently passed a law requiring greater scrutiny and responsiveness from landlords who receive tenant reports about bed bug infestations. The new law, which took effect January 1, 2014, is based on legislative findings that bed bugs “cause measureable economic loss to property owners and occupants, as well as significant physical and emotional suffering to occupants.”
Key Provisions of the New Hampshire Law
Inspection and Remediation
The new law imposes a responsibility on the part of landlords to inspect premises for bed bugs following a report and, if bed bugs are found, to take “remediation” steps. The new law defines “remediation” as “action taken by the landlord that substantially reduces the presence of bed bugs in a dwelling unit for a period of at least sixty days.” Landlords do not have to win the bed bug battle within 60 days, but the steps they take need to be effective ones.
Entry to the Premises
The new law includes bed bug infestations as one of the reasons a landlord may cite for making an emergency entry for repairs. To justify an emergency entry for bed bug purposes, the entry must occur within 72 hours of the time the landlord received notice that there may be bed bugs on the premises. Tenants may not “willfully refuse” entry to landlords for bed bug inspection or treatment.
Deadlines for Response to Bed Bug Reports
Landlords have 7 days under the new law to respond to a tenant’s report that bed bugs may be present in a rental unit.
Liability for Costs
In most cases, landlords must bear the cost of treating a bed bug infestation. However, if the tenant is responsible for the infestation, the landlord may be able to recoup the costs of treatment from the tenant. The new law contains specific steps landlords must take to seek reimbursement of the costs of bed bug treatment from tenants.
Updates to Housing Codes
In addition, New Hampshire localities are tasked with updating their housing codes to reflect the unique problems bed bugs pose. Any new local legal requirements for bed bug protection or remediation cannot, however, be less strict than requirements for dealing with other types of insect infestations.
Although New Hampshire’s law is one of the first state laws to deal specifically with bed bug infestations, New Hampshire is not likely to be the last state to tackle the problem via legislation. Landlords in every state would be wise to respond promptly to complaints about bed bugs in order to protect their rental property from damage and to protect their own legal position if a tenant complains to a court.
Note: This article is provided for informational purposes only. No information provided in this article should be considered legal advice. If you have legal questions, please consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your area.
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Photo credit: Piotr Naskrecki