OLR Bill Analysis

HB 5335 (as amended by House "A")*

AN ACT CONCERNING THE RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF LANDLORDS AND TENANTS REGARDING THE TREATMENT OF BED BUG INFESTATIONS.

SUMMARY:

This bill establishes a framework to identify and treat bed bug infestations in residential rental properties, including public housing but excluding detached, single family homes. It sets separate duties and responsibilities for landlords and tenants, including notice, inspection, and treatment requirements. It also gives landlords and tenants remedies when the other party fails to comply with these duties and responsibilities.

If tenants report that they know or suspect their unit is infested with bed bugs, landlords must retain a third-party inspector or inspect the unit themselves. The bill requires landlords to hire and pay a pest control agent to treat bed bug infestations if they are unable to successfully treat the infestation themselves. If a landlord treats the infestation him or herself, a third-party inspector must confirm the treatment's success. However, the bill makes tenants financially responsible for subsequent treatment costs for their unit and contiguous units if they knowingly and unreasonably fail to comply with treatment measures. It also prohibits landlords from renting units that they know or suspect are infested with bed bugs.

The bill requires the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, in consultation with the Department of Public Health and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), within available appropriations, to develop and publish guidelines and best practices identifying the most effective and least burdensome ways to investigate and treat bed bug infestations.

The bill also makes technical and conforming changes to the statute allowing tenants to enforce a landlord's duties (CGS 47a-14h).

*House Amendment “A” (1) exempts detached, single family homes from the bill's provisions, (2) modifies the original bill's requirement that landlords hire a qualified inspector to conduct an initial infestation investigation by also allowing landlords to conduct an inspection themselves, and (3) specifies that tenants may contact any agency at any time about an infestation.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2016

DEFINITIONS

The bill defines “certified applicator” as an individual who is certified by DEEP to apply pesticides. A “pest control agent” is a certified applicator or person otherwise specially licensed or qualified to treat bed bug infestations. “Bed bug detection team” means a scent detection canine team that holds a current, independent, third-party certification according to standards set by the National Pest Management Association. A “qualified inspector” is a certified applicator, local health department official, or bed bug detection team. “Bed bug” refers to the species Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug. “Dwelling unit” is defined to exclude detached, single family homes.

LANDLORD'S DUTIES

By law, landlords must comply with building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety and keep units in fit and habitable condition (CGS 47a-7). Under the bill, landlords must:

1. provide reasonable written or oral notice to a tenant before entering a unit for bed bug inspection or control purposes;

2. pay for the inspection and treatment of a bed bug infestation;

3. within five business days of receiving notice from a tenant that his or her unit may be infested, inspect or have inspected the unit and contiguous units;

4. if inspecting the units him or herself, provide within two days to the tenant a written notice stating (a) whether the unit is infested, (b) that the tenant may contact the local health department if he or she is still concerned the unit is infested, and (c) the local health department's contact information;

5. if the inspection reveals an infestation, take reasonable measures to treat it within five business days after the inspection, including treating contiguous units;

6. offer assistance to tenants who cannot physically comply with preparation for inspection or treatment procedures, for which the landlords may charge a reasonable amount;

7. offer reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities in compliance with state and federal disability laws;

8. refrain from offering a unit for rent if they know or reasonably suspect it is infested;

9. disclose to prospective tenants whether the rental unit or a contiguous unit is currently infested; and

10. upon request from a current or prospective tenant, disclose the last date the rental unit was inspected for bed bugs and found free of infestation.

The bill specifies that a landlord's rights and duties, as they relate to contiguous units, apply only if the landlord owns, leases, or subleases the contiguous unit.

Under the bill, a landlord may hire a pest control agent or self-treat an infestation. If a landlord chooses to do the latter, he or she must:

1. vacuum areas to be treated before treatment;

2. within five business days after the treatment, have a qualified inspector inspect the unit;

3. obtain written certification from the inspector that the unit is no longer infested; and

4. hire a pest control agent within five business days after the inspection if the inspector determines the treatment was not effective.

TENANT'S DUTIES

Under the bill, tenants must:

1. promptly notify their landlord, orally or in writing, when they know or suspect their unit is infested with bed bugs;

2. not unreasonably deny access to their unit after receiving reasonable notice of intent to enter;

3. cover the costs associated with preparing the unit for inspection and treatment (e.g., moving furniture or laundering clothing);

4. comply with reasonable measures, as determined by the landlord and qualified inspector or pest control agent, to eliminate and control the infestation, or pay additional costs arising from noncompliance; and

5. not move infested material from their unit until treatment is complete or the landlord gives them permission to do so.

INSPECTIONS AND TREATMENT

Landlords, qualified inspectors, and pest control agents must enter units in accordance with existing law on entry into rental units. That is, landlords must (1) provide reasonable notice of their intent to enter and (2) have the tenant's consent to enter, unless there is an emergency, court order, extended absence, or abandonment.

Under the bill, in conducting an inspection, landlords and qualified inspectors may visually or manually inspect a tenant's bedding and upholstered furniture during an inspection. They may also inspect other items, including personal belongings, when they deem it necessary and reasonable, including when they find bed bugs in the unit or in a contiguous unit.

Preparing Unit for Inspection and Treatment

The bill requires landlords to assist tenants who are physically unable to comply with their duty to prepare their unit. Landlords must disclose the cost of assistance. They may charge tenants a reasonable amount for the assistance and set a repayment schedule of up to six months, unless both parties agree to an extension. If a tenant fails to make a required payment, the landlord can deduct the amount owed from the tenant's security deposit at the end of the tenancy, but cannot initiate summary process (eviction) proceedings against the tenant on that basis. Under the bill, the landlord must treat the infested unit, even if the tenant does not agree to the charges or repayment schedule.

Tenants who unreasonably fail to comply with inspection and treatment procedures are financially responsible for the cost of additional treatments of their unit and contiguous units.

Duties Regarding Tenant Relocation

Under the bill, landlords are not responsible for (1) providing tenants with alternative accommodations during treatment or (2) replacing tenants' personal property. However, under the state's Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, landlords may be liable for costs related to relocating tenants displaced by code enforcement activity, such as code enforcement related to a bed bug infestation (CGS 8-266 et seq.).

REMEDIES

In addition to the bill's remedies below, aggrieved landlords and tenants may pursue other remedies available in law or equity. The bill does not restrict the authority of state or local housing or health code enforcement agencies. The bill specifies that tenants may contact any agency at any time about an infestation.

Tenant's Remedies

If a landlord fails to comply with the bill, tenants may follow existing procedures for (1) asking the court for relief, including rent abatement or an order to comply or (2) terminating the rental agreement after giving the landlord notice of the breach and 15 days to comply (CGS 47a-12 and 47a-14h). Noncompliant landlords are additionally liable for a $250 fine or actual damages, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney's fees.

Landlord's Remedies

If tenants unreasonably refuse to give a landlord, qualified inspector, or pest control agent access to their unit, a landlord may ask the court to provide relief under an existing law that authorizes courts to (1) compel access or terminate the rental agreement and (2) hold tenants responsible for actual damages, including attorney's fees (CGS 47a-18).

The bill additionally specifies that a landlord may, if a tenant refuses access or fails to comply with inspection or treatment procedures or control measures, ask the court to:

1. grant the landlord (a) access to the unit to carry out bed bug inspection or treatment measures and (b) the right to carry out such inspection and treatment and

2. require the tenant to comply with inspection or control measures or charge him or her for the costs of noncompliance.

Under the bill, the fee for initiating such an action is the same as for a small claims case (i.e., $90).

Any order granting the landlord, qualified inspector, or pest control agent access to the premises must be served on the tenant at least 24 hours before entry.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Housing Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

10

Nay

1

(03/08/2016)

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

28

Nay

12

(04/11/2016)