Rent it Right
Rent it Right
Q: I moved into my current apartment a couple of months ago, after moving out of a building that I later learned had a bedbug problem. The owner of the first building knew that a few apartments were infested, but took ineffective steps and didn't tell anyone (nor did the affected tenants).
Shortly after I moved to my new place, I noticed bedbugs ... and told the landlord. He's treating the problem, but wants me to pay for it, saying I brought them in. It's possible I did -- but I got them from my former building. Isn't the landlord at my old building the one who's really responsible for the second infestation? --Matty R.
A: Your tale of woe is, unfortunately, becoming more and more familiar. Tenants who have a bedbug problem may hesitate to tell the landlord, let alone other tenants, for fear they'll be labeled a Typhoid Mary (and told to pay for the cost of eradication).
They may try to handle the problem themselves; even if they get the landlord involved, the landlord too may try to keep the problem under wraps while attempting to rid the individual units of the problem, so as not to lose tenants.
But bedbugs are resistant to halfway remedies, and are notoriously mobile. Any response short of a comprehensive treatment is likely to fail, with the result that the critters not only continue to plague the originally afflicted tenants, but also have the time to breed, multiply and travel to other apartments.
It's quite possible, if the timing is right, for a neighboring tenant to unwittingly carry a bug or two with him in furniture, clothing or books when he leaves the building for unrelated reasons. If those traveling bugs have not yet taken a bite, the departing tenant will not know that he's introducing the bugs to his next living situation.
Your landlord may have pretty good grounds for expecting you to pay for the exterminator. His case will be stronger if he can show that no one else in the building has the bugs, and that the former tenant in your apartment made no complaints, either. But he won't be able to conclusively prove that you're the culprit.
It's possible that the former tenant introduced a bug or two just before he left, and you were the unlucky recipient of what he left behind. If the apartment was cleaned before you moved in, conceivably the cleaning company used vacuum cleaners that were used in other units or buildings, with unsealed bags that can also transmit the bugs.
If you refuse to pay for the extermination, your landlord may take the cost from your deposit, then demand that you replenish it. Standing your ground will result in a "pay or quit" notice, followed by an eviction lawsuit. In court, you'd have to show that the deduction was improper because there isn't sufficient proof that you are responsible.
Whether a judge would side with you is impossible to know. And, of course, you'd want to point to the former landlord as the real culprit.
But here is where you'd probably run into a procedural difficulty: In a normal lawsuit, you'd countersue the former landlord, arguing that if anyone's responsible, it's him. But chances are that the unlawful detainer process in your state is not set up to allow for this type of expansion of the lawsuit.
These cases are designed to be fast and simple, and the judge may not let you bring in another party. In this event, you'll be in a very bad position.
If you can't bring the former landlord into the lawsuit, and you lose, you'll lose the apartment and have an eviction case on your record. Your next step could be to go to small claims court and sue the former landlord for the monetary consequences to you of his failure to effectively deal with the infestation, but that won't get you back into your apartment, or get the eviction off your record.
If you are determined to go after the former landlord, consider paying for the extermination and then suing the former landlord in small claims court, asking for the cost of the extermination and perhaps some actual damages if you've been bitten. That way, your tenancy won't be at risk.
Q: I'm just starting out as a property manager. My first client is a homeowner who plans to rent out his home while he sails around the world. He gave me a contract published by an online forms provider. What are some of the issues I need to watch out for? --Tim A.
A: The most important step is to take control of the business relationship, by writing the contract yourself (as the lawyers say, he who writes the contract controls the deal). It may be more convenient for you to just go through the homeowner's agreement and make a few suggestions.
But that would be a mistake, because almost every contract is written to the advantage of one side. Chances are, your homeowner chose a version that favors him.
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