The down and dirty on bed bugs

Bed bugs pose a particularly nefarious problem for California residential landlords. Bed bugs easily travel to neighboring units through articles of worn clothing, laundry, furniture or other forms of contact.

In multi-family properties, infestations frequently affect areas beyond the control of an individual tenant. Thus, a bed bug infestation may be cataclysmic for a rental property — unless a properly coordinated and timely intervention prevents the contagion from getting out of control.

The roles and responsibilities of landlords, tenants and pest control operators for the prevention and removal of bed bug infestations in residential rental property is clarified by bed-bug laws.

Landlords hand a written bed bug notice to prospective tenants when entering into a rental or lease agreement. [See RPI Form 550 and 551]

The notice contains information about:

  • bed bug identification, behavior and biology;
  • the importance of cooperating in bed bug prevention and treatment;
  • the importance of prompt written reporting of bed bug infestations to the landlord; and
  • the procedure for reporting suspected bed bug infestations to the landlord. [See RPI Form 563-2]

When a residential landlord enters into a rental or lease agreement, the notice is included an as addendum attached to the agreement.

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Landlord and tenant duties

A residential tenant under a rental or lease agreement owns a leasehold right to occupy the leased premises for a specific period of time — thus, they are entitled to the implied warranty of a safe and sanitary place to live, called a habitable dwelling. [See RPI e-book Real Estate Property Management, Chapter 38]

The implied warranty compels residential landlords to care for the premises by maintaining it in a habitable condition. A habitable condition is the minimum acceptable level of safety and sanitation — i.e., a property that is clean, sanitary and free of debris, garbage, rodents and vermin, such as bed bugs. [Calif. Civil Code §1941.1]

The bed bug notice advises tenants to cooperate in the prevention and treatment of bed bugs. It also directs the tenant to promptly hand a written notice of any suspected bed bug infestation to the landlord or property manager.

When a tenant reports a suspected infestation, the landlord or property manager is to promptly contact a structural pest control operator requesting and authorizing them to investigate and correct the reported infestation. The landlord has a duty to select a pest control operator who has knowledge and experience in current best practices for bed bug management, such as those created by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

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Prior to the pest control operator’s entry, the landlord serves the tenant a Notice of Intent to Enter Dwelling. The Notice of Intent to Enter Dwelling is used when maintenance or corrective services are needed within an occupied unit, such as a pest control inspection. Thus, the tenant receives a written 24-hour notice of the pest control operator’s intent to enter the premises. [See RPI Form 567]

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When a pest control operator identifies an infestation and takes actions to cure the infected area, tenants are to cooperate with the pest control operator’s treatment strategy, such as:

  • reducing or removing clutter;
  • washing clothing, linens and furniture;
  • clearing items from closets, shelves, drawers and other storage areas;
  • thoroughly vacuuming and cleaning the infested and surrounding areas;
  • allowing the operator to conduct their investigation unhindered or temporarily leaving the unit during the pest control operator’s inspection or treatment; or
  • destroying any untreatable items identified by the pest control operator.

Inspection rules for landlords

When a landlord has no notice or suspicion of a bed bug infestation, they need not call for an inspection of a dwelling unit or common areas for bed bugs. However, when a bed bug infestation is visually detectable during any landlord inspection, the landlord is deemed to be on constructive notice of the infestation.

Further, a landlord may not show a prospective tenant any residential rental unit the landlord knows is infested by bed bugs.

The landlord has two business days after receiving a bed bug inspection report from a pest control operator to notify the affected tenants about the units or common areas inspected of the pest control operator’s findings. [See RPI Form 563-3]

Editor’s note — When a bed bug infestation exists in a common area, the landlord needs to provide notice of the infestation and inspection results to all tenants. [See RPI Form 563-3]

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Retaliatory conduct barred

When a tenant gives notice of a suspected bed bug infestation, the landlord’s ability to alter or modify the tenancy is limited. Actions by a residential landlord to increase rent, decrease tenant services or evict are considered retaliatory acts when initiated by the landlord after a tenant complains to the landlord or a government agency regarding the habitability of the premises.

Any increase in the tenant’s rent, decrease in services or efforts to cause a tenant to leave the rented premises within 180 days of receiving the tenant’s report of a suspected bed bug infestation may not be enforced by an unlawful detainer (UD) action within the 180-day period to recover possession of a residential rental property. [CC §1942.5]

However, this bar against enforcement does not apply when the tenant fails to timely pay the previously agreed-to rent.

When a residential landlord attempts to evict a tenant in retaliation for any lawful activity by the tenant, the tenant is entitled to recover:

  • the tenant’s actual money losses incurred due to the landlord’s retaliatory activity [CC §1942.5(f)(1)]; and
  • punitive losses of no less than $100 and no more than $2,000 for each retaliatory act where the landlord or their agent is guilty of fraud, oppression or malice with respect to the retaliation. [CC §1942.5(f)(2)]

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Analyzing the bed bug addendum

A landlord or property manager uses the Bed Bug Addendum published by Realty Publications, Inc. (RPI) when entering into or renewing a residential rental or lease agreement. The addendum notifies the tenant of their obligation to cooperate in bed bug prevention by reporting a suspected bed bug infestation to the landlord. [See RPI Form 563-2]

The Bed Bug Addendum contains:

  • a statement that the tenant agrees to promptly provide written notice to the landlord of suspected bed bug infestations, and cooperate in any prevention or treatment strategies [See RPI Form 563-2 §2];
  • the address where the tenant is to deliver written notification to the landlord of a suspected infestation [See RPI Form 563-2 §3]; and
  • a statement that the landlord agrees to promptly contact a pest control operator to correct the reported infestation. [See RPI Form 563-2 §4; See RPI Form 588]

Statutory information about bed bug identification, behavior and biology is included in the addendum to help the tenant correctly identify whether a bed bug infestation exists.

Analyzing the Statement of Pest Control Operator’s Findings

A landlord or property manager uses the Statement of Pest Control Operator’s Findings — On a Bed Bug Infestation Inspection published by RPI when a pest control operator has inspected a suspected bed bug infestation. The form provides the tenant with the operator’s findings within two days of the property manager’s or landlord’s receipt of the inspection results. [See RPI Form 563-3]

The Statement of Pest Control Operator’s Findings contains:

  • the name of the pest control company the landlord retained to inspect the property [See RPI Form 563-3 §2];
  • the name of the specific pest control operator who conducted the inspection on the tenant’s unit or in the common area [See RPI Form 563-3 §3];
  • the areas inspected, whether within a single unit or a common area [See RPI Form 563-3 §4];
  • whether an active bed bug infestation was observed, and if so:
    • in what areas [See RPI Form 563-3 §5];
    • any action the pest control operator took to cure the infestation [See RPI Form 563-3 §5.1];
    • whether additional activities or inspections by the pest control operator are required, and if so, the dates they are to occur [See RPI Form 563-3 §5.2]; and
    • any action the tenant needs to take to cooperate with the pest control operator’s treatment strategy. [See RPI Form 563-3 §5.3]

This article was originally published May 2017, and has been updated. 

Want to learn more about the implied warranty of habitability for rental property? Click the image below to download the RPI book cited in this article.