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Bed Bugs! Who’s Responsible?

Bed Bugs Who’s Responsible

KB SyndromeAs the bed bug epidemic grows logarithmically throughout the state; specific laws and regulations are being formulated to deal with many of the questions of responsibility.  Arizona, in some ways has taken steps to address the question through the Arizona Residential Landlord Tenant Act  via state law.  The original proposed bill (SB 1306) really did a great job addressing many of the concerns tenants and property owners were and are still facing in Arizona.  Most importantly the proposed bill contained the provision : “UNLESS THE LANDLORD IS A LICENSED APPLICATOR, THE LANDLORD SHALL NOT USE ANY PEST CONTROL TECHNIQUES THAT CONSTITUTE MITIGATION AND SHALL USE FOR MITIGATION A PEST CONTROL APPLICATOR WHO IS LICENSED PURSUANT TO TITLE.”  This proposed provision would have legally eliminated unlicensed and untrained property owners, or their agents from treating bed bugs themselves and thus potentially limiting exposing tenants to harmful over the counter pesticides and off label application techniques. 

Unfortunately, the housing lobby involved itself in this matter and resulted in the watered down and toothless Arizona Bed Bug laws we have today: Specifically  A.R.S. §33-1319, and relating §33-1324, and §33-1341.  A.R.S. §33-1319(F)(2), states an infestation occurs when:  “the presence of bedbugs is sufficient to materially affect the health and safety of tenants and their guests.”   It is not currently clear who is ultimately responsible under the current statute.  The main requirements of the landlord is to provide bed bug educational materials and that the landlord cannot rent a unit if they know the unit is infested by bed bugs.  Most importantly the Arizona statutes are completely missing language of who is ultimately responsible for treatment.   Diametrically, A.R.S. §33-1324 contends that the landlord must keep the property in a fit and habitable condition (many have asserted this as a bed bug abatement requirement for the landlord), however, A.R.S. §33-1341 states that the tenants must keep the premises in a clean and safe condition.  Knowing bed bugs are classified as parasites, unlike other infestations such as German Roaches; could bed bugs be a breach of the implied habitability warranty compared to other structural pests? Could landlords be fully responsible for bed bug treatments?  Over time, these questions, and many others will be answered once the many upcoming legal battles work their way through courts.

It just seems like the common sense standpoint for the property owners would be to mitigate the problem professionally due to the fact that if the bed bug problem is left untreated, unreported, or treated in a non-effective or unprofessional manner the problem will only spread, and ultimately, if the tenant decides to just move out….  The landlord still has a problem that is not going to go away by itself and could potentially spread to adjoining units!  Any bed bug infestation, dependent of culpability, should be able be addressed promptly and thoroughly by professionals. Despite what a person might read on the internet, bed bug eradication in multifamily dwellings is not a simple task for the “do-it-yourselfer” or overzealous landlord.  Bed bugs in the right situations can and will reproduce to an extremely serious infestation level within several months (the embedded picture is from a recent project that reached the level we call the “KB Syndrome”).  The ultimate key (beyond finger pointing) is to establish rigid and professional treatment, education, and regular inspection protocols that include proactive inspections of all the units on a property.  Proactive inspections remove the idea of waiting for a tenant to complain, and when considering the influx of new bed bug lease addendum’s (leases and addendum’s to leases are being prepared across the US that try to hold renters responsible for sharing or saddling the obligation of bed bugs treatments on the tenants) tenants are now signing, many tenants are pushed to keep their mouths shut in order to avoid any associated recourse they initially agreed to.  

At the end of the day, despite our laws being far from perfect and extremely murky in terms of responsibility, they are a start in the right direction.  Keep in mind, many states have no bed bug laws whatsoever!  Through, communication, education, public awareness, and most importantly bed bug  treatments performed by highly trained and experienced pest control firms, bed bug responsibility can and should be shared by all.  Because ultimately……  The Bugs Always Win!

 NOTE:  I am in no way a licensed attorney but I have spent many years of my life treating and researching bed bugs and their associated impact on the public.  The above information is in no way intended as legal advice. Please seek legal counsel in serious cases!  

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