New law designed to not let the bedbugs bite

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to ensure that renters are able to sleep tight and not let the bedbugs bite.

On a 4-2 margin Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Job Creation approved laws spelling out the obligations of landlords and tenants to both keep apartments bug-free and how to handle outbreaks. Courtney Levinus, lobbyist for the Arizona Multihousing Association, said the apartment owners she represents want to get a handle on what has become a growing national problem.

But Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said SB 1306 appears "a little bit on the punitive side for the tenant,' imposing potential big financial hits on those who don't comply with one or more provisions. At the same time, the worst thing that can happen to a recalcitrant landlord is a tenant can withhold some rent to get an apartment treated.

Bedbugs all but disappeared in this country last century after the introduction of DDT. But the banning of that chemical has results in a rise in infestations of the critters which, while they don't spread disease, do bite.

The measure, crafted by the landlord group, does require property owners to keep their units free of bedbugs. Landlords also could not knowingly rent an infested apartment and would be required to have a licensed pest control company inspect a premises within seven business days of learning of a possible problem.

It would, though, require tenants to notify landlords of infestations and provide access to their apartments for inspection and treatment.

Ellen Katz, an attorney for the William E. Morris Institute for Justice, called the measure "unfair to tenants.' She said the measure subjects apartment dwellers to financial penalties for things as simple as providing verbal notification of infestations instead of in writing.

Worse yet, Katz said, is that a tenant who doesn't comply with one or more provisions could end up being liable not only for the cost of treating his or her own apartment, but every other surrounding unit, left and right, above and below, with no limit to the cost.

Yet if a landlord refuses to treat a problem, a tenant can get the apartment treated, but with a limit of $500 or one-half the rent, whichever is greater.

Levinus did agree to make at least one change in the plan before it goes to the full Senate.

As crafted, a tenant could be financially penalized for moving in a piece of furniture that had bedbugs. The amendment would provide liability only if the tenant knew the item was infested.


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