Unfortunately, it happens more often than you would think: A tenant wakes up one day with a row of bug bites and, after doing some research online, suspects the culprits are bedbugs. Now a tenant is in the position of deciding whether to report it to the landlord and risk retaliation or the landlord accusing the tenant of bringing in the infestation and forcing him or her to pay out of pocket for treatment.
Federal law, specifically the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), has issued rules and guidelines that forbid landlords from subsidizing or charging a tenant the cost of bed bug treatment. Under California law, there are specific landlord and tenant rights when it comes to bed bugs.
Bedbugs: California Landlord and Tenant Obligations
California Civil Code Section 1941.1 provides a landlord’s legal obligations to tenants. State law expressly states that a landlord must maintain and provide, among other things, a clean premises free of rubbish, filth, garbage, and vermin. Likewise, tenants’ legal obligations to landlords under California law are found under California Civil Code Section 1941.2.
State law expressly requires, among other duties, that a tenant personally repair damage caused by his or her own acts if the tenant substantially violated his or her obligations, and the violation substantially contributes to the defective condition.
It is important to note that under California law, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant when he or she must take action in the situation, such as by calling a governmental agency for inspection, organizing other tenants, or requesting a landlord make a repair (or treat bedbugs, in this case).
Generally speaking, a tenant has the legal right to withhold rent from the landlord when the landlord fails to maintain the property in a habitable condition. Moreover, a California tenant may file a lawsuit against a landlord who fails to maintain rental units in a habitable manner. In order to succeed, however, the tenant must show that a defect exists under California law, the owner had actual or constructive notice of the defect, and the tenant suffered damages as a result.
In addition to California landlord’s obligations under the state statute, cases decided by California courts have generally held that a landlord is legally required to pay for bed bug treatment in California. Scenarios in which a California landlord would be obligated to pay include:
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