I stated in one of my prior posts that with the influx of bed bug infestations around the country, that it would only be a matter of time until we saw an increase in bed bug litigation as well.
While bed bug litigation is in its infancy, it has taken a large step forward recently.
A jury in Baltimore recently awarded a tenant $40,000 in damages, in what is described by the tenant’s attorney as the “first bed bug trial in Baltimore.” While I was not present at the 3 day trial or able to read a transcript of the trial, a recent news report indicates that the basis of the large damage award was the landlord’s delay in addressing the bed bug infestation in the tenant’s apartment. Allegedly, the bed bugs were introduced into the apartment complex by a neighboring tenant who then vacated, causing the bed bugs to migrate to the plaintiff’s unit in search of food.
This verdict should concern landlords everywhere. We are now aware know that 12 individuals in Baltimore, felt a tenant should be awarded damages, and a landlord should be required to pay them, even though the landlord did not introduce the pests into the apartment complex. The jury award was based solely on the landlord’s delay in addressing and resolving the bed bug infestation.
This is a warning to landlords everywhere that you cannot just sit back and tell your tenants that it is their responsibility to get rid og the bed bugs, even if the tenant brought the pests to the apartment. I have fielded many telephone calls from landlords and management companies, where I was told that the landlord/agent didn’t feel that they should be required to eradicate the bed bugs since it was the tenant that brought them into the unit.
I think it would be foolhardy to sit back and require your tenant to eradicate the bugs. My advice to landlords is that you — the landlord — should take control of the situation and vet and hire a qualified exterminator. If you leave it to your tenants to eradicate the bed bugs, you may be sorry. A tenant may attempt to use homemade remedies that do not work and will allow the infestation to grow larger. A tenant may elect to use bug bombs — which wil only cause the bed bugs to spread out to different units, making treatment harder.
It is your property. It is your investment. Do not trust its safekeeping to a tenant. You want to ensure that the situation is handled promptly and professionally. You can deal with who should responsible for the cost of eradication after the bed bugs have been killed.
We will be seeing more and more bed bug litigation in the future. The plaintiff’s lawyer in Baltimore — who hilariously is known as “Maryland’s bedbug barrister” — was quoted as saying that he has been contacted by more than 200 people in the last couple of years regarding handling their bed bug lawsuits and that he currently has 18 bed bug lawsuits pending.