The LandLord Advocate April 2014
When we first published this article, we had just given a seminar for the CT Chapter of IREM (Institute of Real Estate Management) on legal strategies for handling bed bug issues. Because of popular demand, we decided to share the basics of that discussion in our newsletter.
Since then, there have been some attempts at the state legislature to pass a bed bug statute, but nothing resulted from those efforts through the last legislative session in 2013. It is critical to note that there is no bed bug statute currently in Connecticut. Over the last few years, we have had clients and others bring us claims by other attorneys, extermination companies, and building/health inspectors that such a statute exists, and advising them to comply with its terms (or seeking engagement for training on the subject). We repeat – there is no such statute. These misguided folks are looking at previous proposed bills that went nowhere. Therefore, our first recommendation is to engage a reputable landlord attorney and extermination company that knows the status of the law and can assist you with a bed bug situation.
Turning to the current 2014 legislative session, the General Assembly’s Housing Committee has considered and approved a Joint Favorable Substitute House Bill No. 5438, called an “An Act Concerning the Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords and Tenants regarding the Treatment of Bed Bug Infestations,” and recommended it for passage. This contains changes from the original Raised Bill No. 5438 with the same name, which resulted from the Housing Committee hearing testimony from interested parties, including the Connecticut Apartment Association (“CTAA”) on behalf of landlords.
The state House and Senate could vote on the Substitute Bill, make further changes to the bill, or never take it up for a vote at all (as has happened in the past). Our second recommendation is that you read the Substitute Bill and let your legislators and/or landlord advocacy group (like CTAA) know your position on its requirements.
In the meantime, we turn to our third recommendation – the most important aspect of dealing with bed bugs, or any infestation for that matter, is to have a plan in place that you can, and do, follow. Handling infestations cannot be a reactive process. You cannot wait until you learn of a problem before you determine how you will handle it. By the time you learn that there is a problem, it will already be significant. You will have an infestation of some kind – plan for it, so you are ready when it happens.
Here is a simple formula to help you develop your infestation strategy – organize and implement a PEST plan.
Prevention. Discuss with your pest management company the various things you can do to help prevent infestations. Whether it is preventative treatments, inspection plans, or other strategies, find out what you can do to help prevent bugs in the first place. Perhaps education of your residents would be part of that plan. Also, discuss with your landlord attorney the policies and procedures you can implement to prevent infestation. Here is a case in point alluded to last month’s Quick Tip about “Stopping bed bugs at the door:” We have a client who happened to be at a recent move-in and noticed bed bugs on a mattress headed for the unit. She promptly stopped the movers and had them immediately remove the mattress from the building, and she informed the resident that infested furniture was not permitted into the unit. This is a great example of an effective PEST plan at work.
Extermination. Again, your pest management company is your best resource for the treatment plan. In short, you need to know how you will handle whatever infestation you are facing, and be ready to institute your plan. Nonetheless, you have all faced the situation where you have a treatment plan in place but your resident interferes, will not let you or the exterminator in, or fails to prepare properly for the treatment. Knowing how you will respond to this situation requires the next part of the PEST plan.
Sound Documentation. It all starts with a good lease that contains infestation clauses that support your PEST plan. Your community rules and regulations, and communications with your residents and your pest management company, will round out the necessary documentation to implement and enforce your PEST plan. However, once you have your prevention plan in place, your extermination plan in action, and all of it supported by sound documentation, you may find yourself with no choice but to exercise the last step in the plan if the tenant blocks or otherwise undermines the prevention or extermination action.
Termination. If you have implemented a prevention and extermination plan and you support both with sound documentation, you may find yourself enforcing those plans through lease termination. Properly developed and documented, your PEST plan will allow you to put a resident in jeopardy of losing their home if they do not comply with your policies. While this outcome is rare, a proper PEST plan can give you the option of terminating someone’s lease if you want or need to exercise it. Indeed, without this part of your PEST plan, a problem tenant can have you chasing the infestation from one place to another and back again for an indefinite time, with a negative impact on your community and finances.
Contact your landlord attorney for assistance with your tenant application, tenant screening, lease language, and operational policies and procedures, including extermination vendor engagement, to develop, implement, and facilitate a PEST plan.
Small steps that can lead to big results.
This tip originally ran alongside a main article “How to be prepared for whatever 2012 may bring”, and remains as applicable today as it was more than two years ago. Being prepared for emergencies is a critically important part of our lives. If we are to take responsibility for our own well-being and ensure we endure an emergency with the best possible outcome, preparedness is where it’s at. Now, be warned – getting prepared is hard work and a lifelong pursuit.
Once you start getting prepared, there really is no end. Every corner you turn will lead you to another element or emergency which you can spend time and money addressing. It is exactly that fact that makes most people shy away from even getting a little prepared.
We all have precious little time with which to spare. Why use it up on something that will just continue to consume more and more of our time? Besides, if something bad happens, someone else will surely step in and help us, right? We think that way because it’s comforting, even though it may not be the reality we find. And, it is exactly that mentality that can lead to negative outcomes over which we have no control at all. While there is always the possibility that your emergency is not one for which you have a plan, any planning you do for any emergency will pay dividends when the crisis hits.
If you first read this tip when it ran two years ago, you now are likely finding yourself in one of two boats:
- Boat 1: Although this tip resonated for you, you didn’t really take our invitation and you still need to get that first preparedness assignment complete. Or,
- Boat 2: You are leaps and bounds ahead of where you were two years ago and you’ve got a preparedness plan for many possible situations you might face.
Either, way, if you find you need a current “nudge”, here’s another suggestion to help prompt or expand your preparedness plans: How to handle a drunk resident’s car crashing into a hydrant on the property – a hydrant that is now flooding several apartments “downstream” from the massive water flow. How would you / should you react?
As the Coast Guard would say, Semper Paratus – Always Ready.
The reading of this newsletter does not form an attorney-client relationship. The contents of this newsletter are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to imply or predict the outcome of any legal matter that you may be considering or be involved in. The Landlord Law Firm makes no warranties of any kind regarding the information contained in this newsletter