Rules for suing over back rent, property damage

Rent it Right

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 21, 2011

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Landlords and tenants have been tussling over who's responsible for eradication for years. The law is simple enough: Landlords are responsible for keeping multifamily structures free from such vermin. If a tenant has introduced or otherwise caused the problem, however, the cost of dealing with it can be laid at his door. But with bedbugs, it's practically impossible to trace the cause of the outbreak.

Consequently, landlords almost always end up paying. But whether they should also pay for collateral expenses, such as those your tenants are demanding, is another matter.

Arizona is currently considering a bill, SB 1306, that addresses these vexing issues. Besides prohibiting the rental of rentals that the landlord knows are infested, it requires landlords to educate tenants on the nature of the problem and the landlord's and tenants' legal duties once an infestation is found.

Expenses for treatment are placed squarely on the landlord (though using traditional legal principals, the landlord could still look to a tenant for reimbursement if the landlord believes it can prove that the tenant introduced the problem).

The bill is tough on tenants, requiring them to report in writing any evidence of bedbugs, to allow access for treatment, and to refrain from self-help measures or treatments undertaken by unlicensed persons. Tenants who fail to comply with these rules face the prospect of paying for mitigation costs.

Some tenant advocates have objected to parts of the bill. But it's hard to imagine how an owner can successfully treat an entire building if some residents balk. To prevent such noncompliance, the law has to have a hammer. True, it's not nice and not fair to have to turn your life upside down because someone else in the building brought in the critters, but refusal to go along may simply make matters worse for everyone.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at

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