California's Bed Bug Laws and Tenant Rights

Bed bugs are small oval-shaped insects that frequently hide in mattresses.

Cimex lectularius, or the common bed bugs, feed on the blood of mammals and are adapted to living with humans, according to the University of Kentucky. These pesky insects are the source of physical discomfort, restless nights and can become a financial burden. They appear in a number of places, including hotels, college dorms and the average home or rental property despite cleanliness. California enforces an "implied warranty of habitability," which addresses residential vermin.

Bed Bug Infestations

Bed bugs have a knack for tucking their brownish, flat, oval-shaped bodies into the most obscure places and are often mistaken for ticks. Their size and ability to successfully hide contribute to the difficulty in controlling them. Signs of bed bugs include dried excrement that appears as a reddish or brown stain on mattresses and box springs and blood smears on bed sheets according to the University of Kentucky. A moderate to heavy infestation encourages them to spread out at which time they can be found anywhere in the home. These small insects hide during the day and feed on their hosts at night. Itchy welts, bumps or bites that appear after sleeping are a sign of an infestation. Though they may not transfer disease and the physical effect is minimal, bed bugs can cause insomnia due to the fear of being bitten at night.

The Cost of Bed Bug Removal

The eradication of bed bugs requires diligence, persistence and patience. It may also require a large sum of money. A typical family may spend up to $5,000 on inspections, storage fees and exterminators, and owners of large rental properties can spend up to $80,000 according to "The New York Times." As a result, tenants and landlords may tussle over the responsibility for the appearance of the bugs. This is where California's "implied warranty of habitability" addresses the very basic requirements for a suitable resolution.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

The California Supreme Court case Green v. Superior Court set the standard for California's habitability law. Under this law, a unit must provide "clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances (for example, a garden or a detached garage), free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin," states the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The "implied warranty of habitability," established in the case makes a landlord responsible for the repair of serious defects that affect habitability. Tenants who suspect bed bugs or other vermin have legal rights and must complete a process to resolve the issue.

Repair and Deduct

In California, tenants have the right to live in a habitable unit, but they must meet their own responsibilities. Keeping the unit clean and free from debris are important even though bed bugs appear in the cleanest of homes. Under California Civil Code Section 1942, tenants can repair and deduct from the rent. In order to repair and deduct, the tenant must notify the landlord in writing of the issue, wait a reasonable period and hire a qualified professional. The reasonable period is 30 days unless the issue is severe. The total expenditure cannot exceed one month's rent, however the option is available twice in a 12-month period. Essentially, the tenant can repair and deduct up to two months of rent in a 12-month period.

Vacate Immediately

Tenants also can move out of the unit immediately without notice. The tenant should still request the landlord eradicate the insects immediately, take pictures of the infestation, provide a letter stating they are vacating under Civil Code Section 1942 and request a final walkthrough. Prior to immediately vacating, consulting an attorney can provide valuable insight into the results of a possible legal battle for property abandonment.

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