New Bedbug Disclosure Law Requires Owners to Reveal Past Infestations
Governor Paterson recently signed into law a bill aimed at helping prospective tenants combat the bedbug epidemic. The Bedbug Disclosure Act requires owners and managing agents to notify new rental tenants of bedbug infestations that have plagued the building and the tenant's individual apartment during the previous year.
The law comes at a time when the city has been fielding an increasing number of bedbug complaints. In 2009, the city's 311 hotline received some 11,000 calls about bedbugs, compared with 537 in 2004, according to statistics provided by Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, who co-sponsored the bedbug disclosure law along with Senator José Peralta, D-Queens.
According to a statement by Assemblywoman Rosenthal, who represents Manhattan's Upper West Side, “New York City tenants have been living in fear of bedbugs, and I am excited to offer them this new protection. Nothing is more horrifying than signing a lease after a lengthy apartment search only to discover that your new apartment is bedbug-infested.”
Owners and managing agents now have to include disclosure forms when they hand over vacancy leases, in a process to be overseen by the DHCR. The DHCR has recently issued the form DBB-N (9/10), Notice to Tenant: Disclosure of Bedbug Infestation History (available at http://nysdhcr.gov/Forms/Rent/dbbn.pdf). The law does not set forth any financial or legal penalties for owners who fail to furnish the notice. It also takes effect immediately and applies only to the city.
The form requires the owner or managing agent to check the applicable boxes. Choices range from no history of any bedbug infestation within the past year in the building or in any apartment to choices identifying the floors and apartment with bedbug infestations and whether eradication measures were employed.
Under the Bedbug Disclosure Act, which adds a new Section 27-2018.1 to the New York City Administrative Code, “Upon written complaint…by the tenant that he or she was not furnished with a copy of the notice” the DHCR has the authority to make the owner disclose the infestation history.
Owner Response to Bedbug Complaints
As the bedbug problem becomes more prevalent in New York City, it is in the owner's interest to tackle any reports of bedbug infestations right way. Getting rid of bedbugs as soon as you are aware of them is the only way to ensure that you are protected from a bedbug lawsuit. In New York City, the presence of bedbugs is listed as a Class B violation, which gives the landlord 30 days to get rid of the parasites. A landlord's failure to fix this problem in a timely manner may constitute a breach of the “implied warranty of habitability,” the landlord's minimum obligation to provide a livable residence.
Cases involving bedbugs place importance on the owner's response and the location of bedbugs. In one case, in which the owner was represented by attorney Karen Schwartz-Sidrane, the DHCR revoked the initial rent reduction. The owner argued that monthly extermination service was provided to the apartment to combat the bedbug condition and that the owner shouldn't be responsible for the tenant's failure to maintain a clean apartment.
The tenant had complained that there were bedbugs in the kitchen, bathroom hamper, bedroom, beds, and a chair, and behind a living room table. The owner had exterminated three times within the month before receiving the tenant's complaint. The DHCR's inspector found evidence of bedbug infestation in a mattress and dead bedbugs in the bedroom. The DHCR inspector didn't find any proof of bedbug infestation in the walls, floors, cabinets, closets, and apartment entrance. Also, the presence of dead bedbugs found by the inspector suggested that the owner's extermination service was effective. It was an error for the District Rent Administrator to hold the owner responsible for the bedbug problem that existed solely in the tenant's personal household property [91-32/34 195th St. LLC, June 2008].
Other recent court decisions have sided with the tenant. Two decisions have handed 40 percent and 50 percent rent abatements to tenants [Assoc. v. CW, June 2009; Grand Review LLC v. Moore, November 2008]. In both instances, the tenants claimed a breach of warranty of habitability. In Grand Review LLC v. Moore, the tenant said that there were problems with bedbugs from the time she moved into the apartment. The tenant admitted that the owner had exterminated twice, but that the problem continued. Because of the bedbugs, the tenant said that she slept at either her mother's or her boyfriend's homes, and that she kept whatever clothes or personal possessions she hadn't thrown out at these locations.
The court ruled for the tenant. It ruled that her testimony was believable, and management's efforts to relieve the problem weren't sufficient. The court gave the tenant a rent abatement of $2,183.
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