Landlords Beware: “Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite”

Landlord Attorney in Woodland Hills - BedbugsMost of us are familiar with the little rhyme: “Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite”.  This age-old rhyme has taken on a special meaning for Los Angeles landlords as Los Angeles juries have awarded bed-bug suffering tenants multi-million-dollar judgments.

The New York Times reports that a Los Angeles jury awarded tenants a $1.6m jury verdict against their landlord. The tenants initially notified the landlord that bedbugs were infesting their apartment. The landlord took swift action, instructing the tenants to throw away all their furniture (note that this is not necessarily the best practice — the Environmental Protection Agency recommends only throwing away those items that cannot be sanitized) and paid for the apartment to be fumigated. However, the landlord’s efforts to control the infestation failed. The tenants continued to be bitten and made many more complaints over the next four months before the landlord finally replaced the carpeting in the unit, which eliminated the infestation. Still, it was too late. The tenants sued and won. It is unclear if the landlord offered to compensate the tenants for the loss of their use and enjoyment of the apartment. However, had the landlord taken swift and effective action when first notified of the infestation, offered to pay the tenants to relocate temporarily, and perhaps even offered them additional compensation for their pain and suffering, it is certain the landlord would have prevailed at trial, minimized the judgment against it, or headed off a lawsuit altogether.

Bedbug infestations are not limited to down-market properties. Last year, another Los Angeles jury awarded a total of $3.5m to a group of eight tenants at the Park La Brea apartment complex whose landlord failed to warn them of an ongoing bedbug infestation. All properties are susceptible to infestation. Accordingly, all residential landlords and property managers should:

  • Conduct regular inspections for bedbugs
  • Respond swiftly and effectively to known infestations
  • If necessary, compensate tenants who suffer stress and inconvenience because of bedbugs with cash payments or rent credits.

In this case, an ounce of prevention can definitely be worth several million dollars’ of cure.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I read about this piece in the NYT and just shook my head. We always make sure landlords in our area are fully participating in a regular pest management agreement so this kind of thing doesn’t happen. However, it seems that NY has had a really rough winter, which may account for the higher than normal bedbug count.

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