The LandLord Advocate March 2012
Bed bugs are back and are in an apartment near you. Well, we say back – but they never actually really left. Although we’d like to think their existence and pestilence had subsided, we are not so lucky. Just when we think things are better, we are approached by another landlord faced with a bed bug issue.
Eighteen months ago, bed bugs were the hottest topic in property management offices around the state. Their popularity has suffered, probably because they are never invited to the party, but show up unannounced and wreak havoc on the psyche of the party guests. Well, you can rest assured that they will once again become the “topic de jour”, as the Connecticut legislature is considering implementing changes that will dictate how landlords and tenants must deal with these pesky little home wreckers.
Don’t get me wrong in my attempt at humor about a very serious topic. There’s not a night gone by that my family and I have spent in a hotel or rented accommodations, that my wife hasn’t sent me into the dark unknown, armed only with a flashlight, looking for the little creatures. Just the thought of encountering bed bugs is enough to put most people, my family included, on alert and to get them wincing about the thought of bedtime. So, I understand that the mere suggestion that bed bugs had ceased to be a problem is offensive, especially to those who deal with their disruptive tendencies on a daily basis.
When I say they are back, I specifically mean, they are back in the minds of the “authorities and officials” who willingly spell out for us the detailed manner by which we are to handle anything we cannot or will not otherwise handle ourselves, and maybe even a few we have.
Here is a link to the specific legislation that has been proposed. It is followed by a brief attempt to summarize its contents. I suggest you take a seat before you read it. Grabbing a favorite beverage on your way might also be warranted….
For those looking for a synopsis, we have provided a list of highlights below:
- The bill provides that a landlord cannot offer for rent a dwelling unit that the landlord knows or reasonably suspects is infested with bed bugs.
- It further requires a landlord to disclose whether the unit offered for rent or any adjacent unit is “currently infested…or has been treated for such infestation” in the last twelve months.
- And, if the prospect requests it, “a landlord shall disclose the last date on which the dwelling unit being rented or offered for rent was inspected for a bed bug infestation and the results of such inspection.”
- The bill later provides that “A landlord shall undertake, at the landlord’s expense, all reasonable measures to identify, eliminate and control a bed bug infestation that are requested by the certified applicator employed by the landlord.”
- A landlord’s failure to do anything required in the bill shall be a statutory violation for which the “landlord shall be liable for damages pursuant to section 47a-12 of the general statutes.”
The bill also requires certain conduct and disclosure from the tenants as well, including written disclosure by the tenant to the landlord when the tenant is vacating a unit that they know is infested with bed bugs. It requires the tenant to notify the landlord of suspected bed bug infestation in their unit and requires them to comply with the requests of the exterminator who is attempting to address the infestation. The bill also provides the landlord the right to seek court orders to compel the tenant to comply with the exterminator’s requests – something already available to the landlord under other statutes.
There are a number of other requirements of both landlords and tenants under the bill. Some of them are compatible with current law, some are not. While it is currently only a proposal, should this bill pass and become law, there are a few changes in your future with respect to your daily operations of your properties.
The best way to protect your interests is to get involved. We recommend you join a landlord organization with strong, active membership and a familiar presence in Hartford. These organizations will make sure that your input on these important issues is presented timely and professionally and will keep you informed about the final outcomes. While there are many such organizations, two that stand out in Connecticut are the Connecticut Apartment Association (“CTAA”) and the Connecticut Institute for Real Estate Management (“IREM”). Their goal is to work with you (and the vendors who service your industry) to ensure you have the most current information and resources at your fingertips to make better daily decisions.
Give one of these groups a call to make sure you voice is heard. Or, give us a call if you’d like to discuss your current bed bug situation and how this proposed law could impact how you deal with them in the future.
Help for eliminating administrative paperwork headaches.
Often, we get requests from current and prospective clients who are looking for help eliminating or downplaying some of their administrative paperwork headaches – especially those brought about when charging back residents for legal expenses incurred as a result of residential lease violations.
Luckily, when the lease provides for it, residents with rent delinquencies are responsible to the landlord for any fees and costs associated with the legal effort to protect the landlord’s rights. However, we’re hearing multiple instances where landlord headaches are coming about simply from the exhausting number of invoices they receive from their current counsel. It seems as though each time their current attorney touches the file, the landlord gets a bill. While the charges are justifiable and the landlord is willing to pay, the paperwork mountain that is created is often an unwieldy challenge to unravel once the tenant arrives in court.
Our clients concerns about this situation will not go unnoticed. Later this month, we will be implementing a pilot program that will hopefully make multiple invoicing a thing of our past. Once in place, this new program will result in one and only one invoice generated for each file. The single invoice is produced upon receipt of the referral, paid promptly by the landlord, and immediately charged to the resident for possible reimbursement. This new approach not only means a reduction in paperwork for the landlord, but also for our firm, allowing LLF to pass along the overhead savings as a reduction in fees.
If you’ve got a paperwork headache that is preventing you from effectively managing your tenant’s payments and rent receipts, please contact us for help.
Inspections can help improve Landlord-Tenant relationship and decrease expenses.
Inspections can help a landlord improve its relationship with a tenant, increase the likelihood of keeping that tenant on renewal, and reduce the property’s operating expenses. Remember, most tenants do not have housekeeping or property damage problems, and the inspection therefore gives the landlord an opportunity to identify maintenance needs and give the tenant tips to avoid maintenance calls or more significant issues that are costly for landlords.
Here are some items that cause real, daily frustration for tenants (but perhaps not enough to generate a maintenance call, or multiple maintenance calls that a tenant could resolve himself/herself):
- Leaking faucets or toilets – tenants will be grateful for its elimination, particularly the noisy ones, plus the property will see decreased water and sewer use expenses
- Jammed or smelly garbage disposals – tenants will appreciate learning about the reset button, and recommendations to not put oil, grease, bones, or rice down the disposal, and to use ice and lemon juice to clean it.
- Outlet stops working – tenants will welcome learning about a switch that controls the outlet, or the reset button if it is a GFCI receptacle.
Of course, on the “major problem” side is the overflowing toilet causing water damage to the unit and the one(s) below – an inspection gives the landlord the opportunity to show the tenant the shut-off valve and how to use it, and watch while the tenant tries it himself/herself. This is much better than a management or maintenance representative saying to the tenant over the phone while water is consuming the bathroom: “Turn the valve to the left of the toilet to the right to stop the flow of water.” You can just hear the tenant thinking: “What??? Do I go left or right? What do I do???”.
Contact your landlord attorney to assist you in creating an inspection regime that helps you effectively address good tenants (retention and improved satisfaction with the apartment) and problem tenants (see our accompanying quick tip on “Effective documentation = success with housekeeping and property damage matters” for more information).
Know more than your tenants.
As I often do, I was surfing the Internet recently to see what was easily available to tenants that may either assist them in an eviction case or otherwise inform them of rights or defenses they might claim in the event you initiate a case against them.
This time around, I came across a new link that I feel is worth five minute of your time…
The site, created by a conglomeration of tenant advocates, spells out a variety of concepts and strategies aimed at assisting your tenant – while making the operation of your property and enforcing your lease a little more challenging.
The site contains tenant advice such as, “You do NOT have to leave your apartment on the date written on the Notice to Quit,” – a statement that will certainly make enforcing your lease more difficult. Elsewhere, the site mentions a frequently deployed legal aid strategy whereby the tenant – even after the marshal has served an eviction execution – seeks “emergency orders” preventing the marshal from fulfilling the execution.
We recommend that you take a few minutes to browse this website (as well as others available via a simple Internet search). Our hope is that you not only find it helpful in understanding what your tenants are being told, but that it also provides you a brief glimpse of the other team’s playbook.
Effective documentation = success when dealing with housekeeping and property damage matters.
Inspections and inspection reports provide an excellent follow-up and expansion of the subject covered in last month’s newsletter quick tip “Effective documentation means victory for the landlord”. With a tenant that has housekeeping or property damage issues, most landlords want the tenant to resolve those issues without having to resort to legal action. However, if the tenant refuses to correct the problems, landlords want to succeed with the summary process (eviction) case.
Effective documentation is the key. First, landlords can increase their effectiveness and accomplishment of both objectives by having clear and strong written policies and procedures about inspections and inspection reports. Second, landlords should send a tenant a written notice of inspection – and conduct the inspection – at least annually and after every time that management or maintenance staff witnesses a significant housekeeping or property damage issue. Third, the landlord should complete a written inspection report for every inspection, and the writing should be detailed regarding the problems and contain an instruction to the tenant to resolve them, how the tenant must resolve them, and the deadline for resolution.
The same standards apply to the re-inspection of the unit to determine whether the tenant resolved the problems. If not, the re-inspection report should note the landlord’s intention to refer the matter to its attorney for a summary process (eviction) action (and not give the tenant a new deadline for resolution).
Again, we realize that documentation takes time and energy, which can be in short supply for landlords. However, in the housekeeping and property damage arena, a landlord will likely face even more time, energy, and money to address these problems where there was a lack of inspections or detailed inspection reports.
Contact your landlord attorney if you have questions about your inspection policies and procedures, or the documentation involved, to make your efforts and that documentation more effective.
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.