July 1, 2017 Implementation
The California legislature has determined that bed bugs are a significant habitability issue in rental properties, so much so, they have drafted and passed Assembly Bill 551 which imposes new disclosure requirements on landlords, property managers, and owner of rental properties. Beginning July 1, 2017 the new law modifies California Civil Code Sec. 1941.1 and requires landlords, property managers, and owners to provide a prospective tenant (and all other tenants by January 1, 2018), a written notice which provide information about bed bugs, including identification, biology, typical behavior. Importantly, the notification requires tenants to cooperate with landlords, property managers, and owners with prevention and treatment procedures, including the importance of prompt writing reporting by the tenant regarding suspected infestations.
Specifically, the new law prevents a landlord, property manager, or owner from showing, renting, or leasing a vacant rental unit that is known to have an infestation. Additionally, if a unit has been inspected by a pest control operator the tenant is required to be given a copy of the pest control report within two (2) business days. This extends and modifies existing law requiring landlords, property managers, and owners to provide tenants with pest control reports for units currently being serviced under contract.
No Extra Duty Imposed on Landlords
The new statute does not impose a new duty on landlords, property managers, or owners to inspect rental units for possible infestation if there is no notice of suspected or actual bed bug infestation. However, the landlord or their agent, is charged with notice if upon a visual inspection it is evident that there are bed bugs. Moreover, if a complaint is made by a tenant or the landlord receives notice from a governmental agency the landlord is imposed actual notice of the condition.
As with any other equitable situation a landlord may not retaliate or evict a tenant complaining about bed bugs as long as the tenant is not themselves in default. Landlords who retaliate against tenants for reporting bed bugs are subject to the same remedies tenants have otherwise available.
In addition to any and all equitable and legal remedies available to tenants against overbearing landlords retaliating against tenants, landlords may also be liable for actual damages sustained by the tenant, and potential punitive damages, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Advice for Landlords – Do the Right Thing
As with all landlord-tenant issues it is wise to follow the law and to do the right thing by the tenant when habitability is the issue and the quiet use and enjoyment of the tenancy is on the line.