Bed Bug Proposal Puts Cost Burden On Residents
Monday, February 6, 2012

Bedbugs feed on human and animal blood. They can be found in immaculate places or filthy ones. They show up in apartments, hotels, homes and government buildings. After unknowingly being transported on luggage or clothing, the pests can go undetected in new a location for months.

There is no simple solution for dealing with this national health problem. But legislation being considered by the Iowa Legislature is not a solution either. It does nothing to reduce infestations. Instead, it puts the financial responsibility for dealing with these pests on renters.

House Study Bill 520 should be squashed immediately.

The bill would require tenants to inform landlords about the presence of bedbugs within seven days of moving in. Failure to do that "shall be an acknowledgement by the tenant that the dwelling unit is free of bed bugs," the bill says. Tenants would also have to report bugs within 48 hours of noticing them. Not doing that could mean being held responsible for the costs of everything from extermination to replacing carpet and cabinets to repainting.

These are ridiculous expectations and timelines designed to protect landlords from liability. Bite marks from the bugs may take as long as 14 days to develop on some people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The blood-suckers can live for long periods without a meal.

How is someone supposed to know within a week that an apartment or home is infested? And what if the person is elderly or disabled?

Tenants at two Des Moines apartment buildings housing low-income disabled tenants sued property owners after a massive infestation of bedbugs a few years ago. They say bites scarred their bodies. They were forced to throw away furniture. Relatives didn't want to visit. They have been shunned by other landlords afraid to rent to them.

Court records show managers of the Des Moines apartments left it up to the residents to prepare their apartments for exterminators. About half of them couldn't complete tasks that included moving furniture away from baseboards and bagging belongings in plastic. Of course they couldn't. These renters include people with limited mobility, with vision problems and with chronic pain.

Yet the legislation would have renters crawling around on carpet or moving mattresses and furniture to check for pests. They would be squinting to find fecal material of bugs that range from 1 mm to 7 mm long. Then if they fail to comply with procedures to treat an infestation, they could be responsible for the costs of treating other apartments and displacing neighbors.

Yes, bedbugs are a problem for landlords. They want someone else to be responsible for detecting and paying for the treatment of the problem.

They have a well-organized lobby to try to make that happen. Renters don't. Lawmakers need to stand up for these Iowans, which include people with disabilities. That means quickly exterminating this legislation.