California's Bed Bug Laws and Tenant Rights

California's Bed Bug Laws and Tenant Rights
Bed bugs are small oval-shaped insects that frequently hide in mattresses.

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. According to the University of Kentucky, 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. A moderate to heavy infestation encourages bed bugs 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.

Bed Bug Removal Costs

Eradicating bed bugs requires diligence, persistence and patience and may also require large sums of money. A typical family may spend up to $5,000 on bed bug 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 argue over responsibility for the appearance of bed 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. The implied warranty of habitability established in the case makes a landlord responsible for the repair of serious defects that affect habitability. The California Department of Consumer Affairs also states a unit must "provide clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances, such as detached garages, free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin." Tenants who suspect bed bugs or other vermin have legal rights and must complete a process to resolve the issue.

Repair and Deduct Rules

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.

Vacating Unit Immediately

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