Unless you were alive during World War II, you’ve likely never seen or experienced Cimex lectularius – the common bedbug. Due to international travel and reduced use of DDT, bedbugs are back. Small, reddish-brown and oval, these bloodsucking pests are showing up in apartment units, movie theatres, hotels and college campuses nationwide.
Not only do bedbugs bite and leave red bumps that swell and itch for up to a week, they are difficult and expensive to eradicate. Once they are in a property, they can migrate from unit to unit.
As a landlord, your first concern should be preventing bedbugs’ arrival. And, if your tenant reports bedbugs, you should take immediate steps to eradicate them. A second concern may be creating a framework that limits legal liability in the event of an infestation and requires tenants to take preventive measures against bedbugs.
Pests and Colorado’s Warranty of Habitability Law
Colorado’s Implied Warranty of Habitability Act says, in essence, that when you sign a lease, you promise that your unit is fit to be lived in. These requirements call for extermination services if there is any sign of pests, rodents or other infestation.
If you suspect bedbugs on your property, schedule a proactive extermination. Some pest control firms use dogs to sniff out the bugs and can provide a certificate attesting that your unit is pest-free.
Once your property is rented out, the Warranty of Habitability Act says that if a tenant reports a “breach” or violation of the standard, you are responsible for remedying it. So if your tenant reports signs of bedbugs, you need to call an extermination service, regardless of whose fault it is.
Make sure to document tenant communications and efforts to fix the problem in writing.
Your lease can spell out who is responsible for the costs of extermination as long as these provisions do not conflict with the warranty of habitability law. Of course, it would be easier for you to ask the tenant to pay for extermination costs if you can prove that the unit was certified bedbug-free before the tenant moved in. (And that no adjacent tenants have complained of bedbugs, too.)
Educate your Tenants, Include a pest control provision in your lease
Cautious landlords might take two additional steps to guard against bedbugs.
First, educate your tenants about bedbugs and how to prevent their arrival in the home. Caution them against acquiring used furniture, especially beds and couches, and especially items left out on the street. Warn them about how bedbugs hitchhike in luggage from foreign travel.
Second, ask tenants to read and sign a lease with a provision that limits your legal liability for damages that may occur as a result of bedbugs and their extermination. The provision may also reiterate your tenants’ responsibility to inform you of any infestations and provide access to the property for pest control.
Bradford has updated their Colorado leases to include a pest control provision as well as mold, smoking, and medical marijuana provisions.