Lawmakers crafted a bill that they say will help combat the spread of bed bug infestations, but opponents say it’s an unnecessary and costly mandate.
At a public hearing Thursday, members of the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners and the Connecticut Realtors Association criticized a section of the bill that would impose an expensive mandate on landlords while doing little to mitigate the spread of bed bugs.
Lawmakers say bed bugs are becoming an increasingly severe problem in Connecticut for both the wealthy and the poor and that a move to curb their spread is long overdue.
“It’s not something we can just get rid of. We can’t ignore it,” said Sen. Edwin Gomes, D – Bridgeport. “You have roaches and you have ants, but it’s a different thing with bed bugs.”
The bill requires landlords to hire a certified exterminator within 10 days of discovering an infestation, an expense that John Souza, treasurer of the organization, said could amount to more than $800 per unit.
It also requires tenants to take steps prescribed by the certified exterminator hired by the landlord to prevent the infestation’s spread. It also allows landlords to sue the tenant if they can prove the tenant did not follow the exterminator’s recommendations.
Rep. Bruce Morris, D – Norwalk, asked Souza if he would support a bill that allowed landlords to abate the problem without hiring an exterminator, but if the landlord’s attempts failed, they would be responsible for abating the tenants rent and paying for the tenants temporary housing.
Souza said he would oppose the compromise because bed bugs often reemerge within a single housing unit even after it has been fumigated.
While they do not spread disease, they can cause intense emotional stress for a tenant and effect his or her job performance and ability to live a normal life.
There is a learning curve, but if a landlord educates him or herself, Souza said, he or she can quash an infestation cheaply using chemicals, bed bags, vacuum cleaners and other products that can be purchased at most hardware stores.
If discovered early, a landlord can rid a unit of bed bugs for as little as $100.
Souza said that the liability issue, along with the risk of higher costs if the infestation spreads to surrounding apartments, is enough of an incentive for landlords to stop problem early and ensure that it does not spread.
Tenants can sue a landlord in small claims court if the landlord does not take action to rid their property of a bed bug infestation.
“With education, everyone will benefit,” Souza added. “If ants were new today and you had dishes in your sink, someone would say ‘take the dishes out of your sink.’”
Realtor Donna Karnes said that the bill unfairly targets renters while ignoring hotel and motel owners, cruise lines and owners of other temporary housing where bed bugs are often unwittingly picked up.
She agreed that the legislature needs to take action, but said that small business owners who rent out one or two multi-family houses would be disproportionately affected by the high cost of abatement.
“We need to do something, but we’re singling out mom and pop
. We need to come up with a more broad based solution.”
Rep. Christopher Wright, D – Bristol, said he believes the bill equally shares responsibility between landlords and tenants.
“I happen to work in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital. In my emergency room we see people every day with that problem,” said. “Whatever it is we’re doing now isn’t working, because the problem isn’t going away, it’s only getting worse.”
Wright said the legislature is trying to provide better living circumstances for people in the state
Souza criticized a section of the bill that would require landlords to abate their tenants’ rent, saying that it unfairly placed responsibility on the shoulders of the landlord.
“Nobody is abating my taxes my mortgage payment my insurance payments,” Souza said.
Rep. Larry Miller, R – Stratford, said that the bill “needs some work” because taxpayers could be left paying for an exterminator if the bugs are introduced to municipal or state-owned housing.
“Our housing authority has about four or five complexes in our community, so now the town becomes the landlord,” Miller said. “It could cost our community a lot of money.
Miller also criticized the bill for being unclear about whether the owner of a single condo or the condominium association would pay if a renter introduces bed bugs.
The bill also requires landlords to disclose to potential tenants if a unit or any adjacent unit has been infested within the last twelve months, which Karnes said her organization supports.
The Connecticut Coalition Against Bed Bugs has worked with the Department of Public Health to host forums to gather information about Connecticut’s growing bed bug problem and has created guides that are available on the department’s website. But there’s little data about the extent of the problem because it isn’t associated with an infectious disease.