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Spencer, Tucker & Sumter Bill to Require Landlords to Prevent and Eradicate Bedbugs Released by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats L. Grace Spencer, Cleopatra Tucker and Shavonda Sumter sponsored to provide additional tools for landlords and tenants to address bedbug infestations was released Monday by an Assembly committee.

The legislation was initially crafted after news reports detailed severe outbreaks of bedbugs in several Hudson County apartment complexes. In these instances, the tenants, some of whom had nothing to do with the initial infestation, were being charged for extermination.

Originally thought to be eradicated in the U.S., reports of bedbug infestations have increased in the last decade, due in large part to increased foreign travel.

“Bedbugs are hardy pests and if not reported quickly to a landlord can infest an entire building,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “A bedbug infestation is a uniquely hard to exterminate threat to the health and habitability of a dwelling because tiny adult bedbugs are able to hide deep in mattresses and walls, and their food source is the occupants of a dwelling. Because piecemeal extermination is virtually impossible, it only makes sense that landlords be part of the equation to eliminate bedbugs in their buildings.”

“Renters should not have to live silently with bedbug infestations,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “Bedbugs leave signs of their presence in bedding and in a dwelling that are visible to the naked eye, making education of a dwelling occupant a critical aspect of prevention. Tenants who want to live in a clean and safe environment need the peace of mind that their landlord will work with them to ensure the sanctity of their home.”

“The owner of a multiple dwelling, with the cooperation of tenants, is in the best position to coordinate the extermination of bedbug populations in that multiple dwelling,” said Sumter (D-Passaic/Bergen). “The bedbug is a public nuisance and it is a matter of public welfare to protect New Jersey citizens’ health from this pest. Tenants of multiple dwellings should be educated and vigilant about preventing the presence of bedbugs in their homes.”

This bill (A-1578) would require owners of multiple dwellings to maintain a safe and clean living environment free of the presence of bedbugs. It provides that property owners are responsible for maintaining multiple dwellings free of bedbug infestations, and must remove bedbugs at their own expense when they become aware of an infestation in a multiple dwelling. A landlord who does not take prompt action upon written notice that bedbugs have infested a property is financially liable for the consequences.

The Department of Health and Senior Services is charged with preparing and publishing a bedbug education document in pamphlet form. The legislation would require multiple dwelling owners to provide tenants with this pamphlet within 90 days after the department makes it available to the public. Owners of multiple dwellings would be required to deliver this pamphlet to tenants, who would be required to sign an acknowledgment that they received this document. If an owner is unable to obtain a signature, the owner shall be deemed in compliance with the delivery requirement if two attempts are made to deliver the pamphlet, one of which shall be by certified or registered mail.

This publication would set forth the legal rights and responsibilities of both owners and tenants imposed by this legislation. The pamphlet would advise tenants that their units may be subject to inspection for bedbugs and that the tenants may be responsible for certain costs related to bedbug eradication. If enacted, this legislation would require the owner to deliver the pamphlet before charging certain expenses to tenants or deducting certain expenses from tenants’ security deposits.

The bill requires owners to act to eradicate bedbugs within 10 days of receiving written notice of the presence of bedbugs in a unit. When a unit is rented for seasonal use, the owner would have seven days to act. This bill also requires the owner of a multiple dwelling to provide the tenant with 48 hours’ notice that access is required to a unit for purposes of eradicating the presence of bedbugs prior to entering the unit for purposes of inspecting for or eradicating bedbugs.

This legislation imposes a duty on tenants to notify the owner of the presence of bedbugs in the unit. This legislation also would require a local board of health to act on the owner’s behalf to eradicate the presence bedbugs when an owner does not do so.

The bill was released by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.