This is a long one but worth reading. I hope that it will inspire more people to ask more questions and know more BEFORE you move into a dwelling.
I receive calls all the time from people who have just signed a lease and moved into a unit that is infested with bed bugs. It is then that the landlord points the finger back at them and tells them they must have brought them in and refuses to do anything about it. I hope that this will help people ask as many questions and get it in writing before they sign a lease!
When my kids grew up and moved out, I moved from a house into an apartment. I hadn’t lived in an apartment for 38 years. Placed in front of me with a pen for signing was a stack of papers consisting of 30 pages deep! I felt more as if I was purchasing a home and signing escrow papers and not just leasing an apartment.
Like most people, the moving van was “waiting” outside which put a bit of pressure on me to get the papers signed quickly. I asked many questions as I initialed and signed every page. When the next page said Bed Bug Addendum I hesitated for quite some time, rose up my eyebrows and started to read every word before making any decision to sign it. I read over the addendum and saw many flaws in it that made me start to ask many questions. I thought about the people that sign this blindly knowing absolutely nothing about bed bugs and their nature.
No identification or pictures showing what they looked like, signs of them or where they hide or what not to do. There was no bed bug notice form to give my management if I should encounter them. Included was a single page with basic bed bug information.
I DIDN’T TELL THEM MY BACKGROUND AND ASKED:
The first thing out of my mouth was – you’re kidding me – what’s a bed bug?
- How do I know the person before me that just moved out didn’t have bed bugs?
- What proof did they have to show me that there positively are no bed bugs other than me taking their word for it?
- And suppose the person who just moved out did have bed bugs and they didn’t know that they did? Am I now moving my personal belongings into the unit and risk having bed bugs riddle my belongings and getting bit?
- What about the apartment beside me or below or above me? Have these people been fully educated on bed bugs? Have these units been checked on a regular basis? Or maybe the people have bed bugs and are one of those who don’t get affected by the bites? How can I be assured?
The staff member which sat in front of me was flabbergasted and could not answer any of my concerns or questions. She looked at me with a blank stare and said “It’s a little brown bug the size of an apple seed, if you find any, let us know”.
Now that was comforting I thought to myself (sarcastically).
While I am not an attorney, and this is not meant to be a legal representation or documentation, the attorney that I do work with has given an extremely powerful and meaningful observation to this sticky issue. Being a consumer I too fall victim to many of the same things others do and write for the purpose of public awareness.
Disclaimer: Always have your attorney review any paperwork you sign and consult with your own attorney to explain further anything you don’t understand in any Bed Bug Addendum.
The biggest problem I personally see with this type of written bed bug addendum is that holding the tenant responsible in this way and them knowing it, causes them to “hide” the fact that they have bed bug and they then try to self-treat which causes yet more problems. I have spoken to many tenants which refuse to “tell their landlords” because they don’t have the monies to pay for remediation better yet the neighbors unit.
WE TORE INTO THIS PARTICULAR BED BUG ADDENDUM TO EXPLAIN WHAT IT SAYS
When a tenant moves into a multi-unit property, they are often presented with a Bed Bug Addendum along with their standard lease. This addendum serves several purposes. It is my intention to help explain this addendum to you in the best way I can so that you understand what you are signing if you are a renter. In the first four paragraphs of this particular addendum, it is the intent of these addendums to serve as an acknowledgement of the possible problem of bed bugs.
An addendum, in general, is an addition required to be made to a document by its reader subsequent to its printing or publication. Your lease is a legal document and most importantly in legal contracts, an addendum is an additional document not included in the main part of the contract which may contain additional terms, specifications, provisions, standard forms or other information. The main lease contract has already been printed and the cost of destroying the batch and reprinting is deemed too high so an addendum is added.
PURPOSE – This portion “modifies” the original lease and assumes their “we take no responsibility” clauses by adding that THEY RELIED ON YOUR REPRESENTATIONS TO THEM.
DO NOT LIE ON THIS PLEASE! IF YOU HAD BED BUGS IN THE PAST, HAVE THEM NOW OR MOVED FROM ANOTHER PLACE BECAUSE OF THEM – THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO LIE. YOU CAN BE THE CAUSE OF BRINGING BED BUGS INTO A PREMISE THAT POTENTIALLY HAS NO BED BUGS!
Next Two Paragraphs
INSPECTION – there are two paragraphs in which you have to agree with one or the other. In this addendum it was already filled out for me and I was not given a chance to choose which one I decided to do. They automatically checked the second one for me.
You agree that you: (Check one)
Have inspected the dwelling prior to move-in or signing this addendum and that you did not observe any evidence of bed bugs or bed bug infestation;
Will inspect the dwelling within 48 hours after move-in or signing this addendum and will notify us of any bed bugs or bed bug infestation.
Most people sit at the desk of the agent, don’t read it completely and sign away. They don’t stop and go and look or ask pertinent questions.
- Did you?
- How do you know that the “inspection” was done by a qualified bed bug professional prior to cleaning the unit?
- How do you positively know that there are no bed bugs?
- What about surrounding units? Have they been recently inspected as well?
- Where is the written reports and proof?
- Has the unit or building been treated for bed bugs in the past?
- How long ago?
Many times management will send in a cleaning staff BEFORE BED BUG INSPECTIONS ARE COMPLETED. The cleaning crews are not normally trained to notice signs of bed bugs and in many cases they “clean” any evidence of bed bugs up. (Paint over or clean fecal stains – vacuum remaining cast skins, etc.)
Then maintenance does a final inspection before a new tenant moves in to deem it ready. If any bed bugs are residing in the unit, they are now well hidden in cracks and crevices and cannot be visually found. This leaves a false sense of security where the management “thinks” there are no bed bugs in the unit. As stated in the addendum “far as the management knows”. I don’t know about you but I would like to see a written report from a professional.
When bed bugs are disturbed, they tend to seek out harborage where they are safe and go into hiding. Then when a new tenant moves into the unit and is settled, after a few days and in some cases up to 14 days they start being bitten.
Remember now that you signed an addendum assuming and trusting there were no bed bugs (after the 48 hour period) and all of a sudden you are getting bit and are now are responsible for treatment costs if there are any bed bugs.
Always request documentation and a copy of the last pest control report that shows the investigation of the unit and surrounding units was completed by a professional bed bug expert pest control company just prior to your move-in. This way you can “hopefully” (if they used professionals) feel better that you are moving into a bed bug free dwelling. Do not sign unless you have that in hand.
INFESTATIONS – We are not aware of any current evidence of bed bugs or bed bug infestation in the dwelling.
You agree that you have read the information on the back side of this addendum about bed bugs and: (Check one).
Again, this box was already checked for me! It’s like they read my mind!
You are not aware of any infestation or presence of bed bugs in your current or previous apartments, home or dwelling. You agree that you are not aware of any bed bug infestation or presence in any of your furniture, clothing, personal property or possessions. You agree that you have not been subjected to conditions in which there was any bed bug infestation or presence.
You agree that if you previously lived anywhere that had a bed bug infestation that all your personal property (including furniture, clothing, and other belongings) has been treated by a licensed pest control professional. You agree that such items are free of further infestation. If you disclose a previous experience of bed bug infestation, we can review documentation of the treatment and inspect your personal property and possessions to confirm the absence of bed bugs. You agree that any previous bed bug infestation which you have experienced is disclosed here: ____
(It is the intention of these addendums to inform the new tenant that the unit(s) in which they are leasing have been investigated thoroughly by bed bug management staff and are free and clear of bed bugs as far as the management knows and gives you ample time (48 hours) to investigate the unit yourself for any possible signs of bed bugs. They state this by saying that they “ARE NOT AWARE” of any current evidence of bed bugs or bed bug infestations in the dwelling).
Again, remember – management is relying on you to tell the truth about previous bed bug infestations in your personal belongings you are about to move into their units. They ask to see your documentation – did you ask for theirs?
Are you willing to move into a residence relying on someone’s assuming?
ACCESS FOR INSPECTION AND PEST TREATMENT
(You must allow us and our pest control agent’s access to the dwelling at reasonable times to inspect for or treat bed bugs. You and your family members, occupants, guests, and invitees must cooperate and will not interfere with inspections or treatments. We have the right to select any licensed pest control professional to treat the dwelling and building. We can select the method of treating the dwelling, building and common areas for bed bugs. We can also inspect and treat adjacent or neighboring dwellings to the infestation even if those dwellings are not the source or cause of the known infestation.
You are responsible for and must, AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE, have your own personal property, furniture, clothing and possessions treated according to accepted treatment methods established by a licensed pest control firm WE approve. You must do so as close to the time we treat the dwelling. If you fail to do so, you will be in default, and we will have the right to terminate your right of occupancy and exercise all rights and remedies under the Lease Contract. You agree not to treat the dwelling for a bed bug infestation on your own.)
This says if your neighbor gets bed bugs and reports to management, they can require you to have your possessions treated at your own expense. By no fault of yours this kind of makes you responsible if your neighbor gets bed bugs, don’t it?
It’s obvious that in order for the management to provide remediation for bed bugs that you need to allow access to the dwelling without interference.
The more we work together the better but are the pest control people that the management hire experienced in bed bug remediation?
It states that they chose the type of method used to treat the problem. There are many different methods in treating bed bugs from standard IPM products and methodologies, to heat, and fumigation.
- What if you are a senior or child and are susceptible to any toxins?
- What if you are disabled and cannot do the preparation?
- What if you have animals?
There are many variables and these need to be addressed before any decisions are made not just accept whatever treatment option that the management choses. But you signed an addendum that requires you to do whatever they choose.
NOTIFICATION – This paragraph is obvious. If in the event you feel that there is any problem with any type of pest you must notify management immediately.
It is our suggestion that you notify them in writing. Our philosophy is the most critical component of bed bugs awareness is the time between introduction and acknowledgement or first sighting so that the infestation is kept to a minimum compared to months later.
Always notify the management in writing. Include visuals, bites signs, pictures or anything else you may see that makes you think there may be bed bugs.
COOPERATION – Let’s move on to the “Cooperation” part of the addendum. It is stated that “if they confirm the presence or infestation of bed bugs”, you must cooperate and coordinate with them and their pest control company.
This is all fine and dandy because it takes concerted effort to get rid of bed bugs but it also states that they have the “right” to ask you to “remove” all your personal items and ask to temporarily vacate in order to perform the remediation. In other words – they are saying move ALL personal items – MOVE OUT ON A TEMPORARY BASIS. If you do not cooperate – they have the right to consider you in default and have the right to terminate your lease and exercise all rights under the Lease Contract.
Because there are many different methodologies and techniques in bed bug remediation, hopefully the management takes the path of least resistance when it comes to changing the life style of the individual living in the dwelling.
Today there are so many ways that are being used in the professional pest control industry that can safely treat the dwelling with all personal possessions intact without having to move anything. Matter of a fact, moving things around can spread them further throughout the premises.
These are things that have to be addresses with management before you enter into a contract. It is stated that if you do not cooperate they have the right to terminate your right to occupancy and exercise all rights and remedies under the lease contract.
RESPONSIBILITIES – here is where it gets down to the brass tacks. The first sentence states “You may be required to pay all reasonable costs”.
The word “may” is placed into the addendum for specific reasons. They cannot state you must or have to because of the implied warranty of habitability of landlord law as required in most states of the union. When a person or company owns and operates a rental property they MUST provide an inhabitable dwelling.
In an explanation of this in almost every state, tenant is entitled to a safe and livable home, regardless of how much rent you pay or whether your landlord tries to get you to accept a hovel. We’re talking about basic, important items such as a roof that keeps out rain and snow, hot water, heat, and sturdy floors and walls that aren’t in danger of imminent collapse or occupied by rodents and pests.
This list of necessary features includes the absence of significant danger from lead, asbestos, and, most recently, mold, plus reasonable protection from criminal intrusion. If the landlord refuses to provide or repair these aspects of your home, you may, depending on where you live, be able to:
- withhold rent
- pay for repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent
- sue the landlord, or
- move out without notice and without liability for future rent
Your right to livable housing has a lofty-sounding legal name: You’re entitled to the benefit of the landlord’s “implied warranty of habitability.” This means that, whether she knows it or not, your landlord has promised you a livable place simply by renting it to you. This basic right originated in court decisions in the early 1970s. By now, all but one state (Arkansas) has embraced this notion, either by decision from their highest court or by statute, and even in Arkansas, some cities and counties have enacted ordinances that come close to establishing the same standards.
Before anyone should attempt to withhold rent or do anything on the list above you must consult with an attorney. A lease is a legal document and you will be held accountable.
The Implied Warranty of Habitability
So what does it mean to say that your landlord is expected to fulfill an implied warranty of habitability? It means that the property owner must:
- keep basic structural elements of the building, including floors, stairs, walls, and roofs, safe and intact
- maintain all common areas, such as hallways and stairways, in a safe and clean condition
- keep electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems and elevators operating safely
- supply cold and hot water and heat in reasonable amounts at reasonable times
- provide trash receptacles and arrange for trash pick-up
- manage known environmental toxins such as lead paint dust and asbestos so that they don’t pose a significant danger
- in most states, provide rental property that is reasonably safe from the threat of foreseeable criminal intrusions, and
Exterminate infestations of rodents and other vermin in virtually every state, these rights are yours, no matter what the landlord has asked you to sign or agree to. (In narrow situations, landlords and tenants in Texas and Maine can agree that certain habitability requirements will be the responsibility of the tenant.) In other words, the landlord cannot shrug off these responsibilities in a “disclaimer” when the tenancy begins. And he can’t effectively ask you to waive your right to them. (Any so-called waiver will not be upheld by a court.)
Here we go again – if after you move and they feel that you were the responsible party for the bed bugs and they have to move or remediate other adjacent units of yours – you may be held responsible for the costs incurred to do so including loss rental income and other expenses incurred by them to relocate residents, clean and perform pest control duties. This can be thousands of dollars.
Example/Scenario: You lease apartment 203 on Saturday the 29th and move in on the 1st. By reading this addendum you now know you have to check for bed bugs. You have no clue what bed bugs are – only the information written on the back of the addendum. You look around the empty apartment and see no living bugs anywhere. You are now given the option to sign off on two different scenarios; either you have inspected and found no bed bugs – OR – you will inspect within 48 hours. You now have to legally sign off stating you are advising them you checked for bed bugs and found none.
What people do not know is that even the most trained bed bug professionals is only good for 30% accuracy and have a hard time finding bed bugs without the use of certain tools and knowing exactly where to look.
You now sign.
Problem: The apartment may have been sitting vacant for three weeks or more since the last tenant moved out. The dwelling was cleaned and checked off as ready to rent by the untrained supervisor of the maintenance staff as “bed bug clear and free”.
Remember, you just signed a legal agreement that states you investigated and know there are no bed bugs and take full responsibility and two weeks later you and your children wake up with red welts all over your body.
The nature of the bed bug is to hide away in a safe- undisturbed place until which time they require a blood meal. (Bed bugs are known to go long periods of time without a blood meal). This means that there may be bed bugs hidden within the walls, baseboards, electrical conduit or tack strips of the carpet.
The unit upstairs, next door or below has bed bugs and they just made their way through the structure of the building and found you.
None of which was obvious when you moved in.
According to the remainder of the addendum you signed you need to promptly notify management if you find any signs of bed bugs.
You call management and state you “think” you have found bed bugs.
Now according to the addendum you signed, you must allow the pest control company that your management choses and approves to enter your dwelling for remediation.
Here is where it gets sticky. If the pest control company that your property manager chooses is experienced with bed bug remediation that’s a good thing BUT if (and in many cases) they use their own maintenance staff to spray the baseboards with insecticides and place DE in the outlets – you may have a problem. Always ask about these things.
When you moved in you provided the bed bugs many new places to take up housing in your furniture. And they would rather find a warm and cozy place within your bed or 5 – 10 feet of your bed to take shelter in-between meals instead of making it back to the confines of the walls. In other words, they don’t want to be too far from their next blood meal.
The purpose of me writing this is so that we can all come together and stop pointing fingers at one another. Can’t we all come to an agreement as to how we are going to combat this bed bug problem?
We have just completed a new style of a Bed Bug Addendum that works for all involved. Management has certain guidelines and protocols they must have in place prior to leasing any unit. Tenants have responsibilities prior to signing any addendum and must follow protocol as well. Being fair on both parts keeps everyone on their toes.
Call 888-966-2332 for more information www.ibbra.org