Bed Bugs Put Bite on Springs Landlords, Renters
Sunday, April 15, 2012
The diagnosis Jeannette Greer received during her visit to the
Penrose Hospital emergency room in March was cellulitis, a skin
infection that can have any number of causes.
But Greer says she knows the source of her infection: bedbugs. She
started seeing them within hours of moving into her unit at Enfield
Apartments in December, and despite numerous attempts by the
property manager to eradicate the critters, they come back like a
recurring nightmare, she says.
"I can't get eaten up like this again," says Greer, a 52-year-old
Army veteran who suffers from diabetes and PTSD. "The stress is
Greer is trying to get out of her lease, get her deposit back and
move, leaving her furniture and other belongings behind so she
doesn't take bug-infested items with her. She and the management at
Greccio Housing, which owns the apartment building, are trying to
work things out; it's unclear how her situation will be
One thing is clear: She's not the only renter in Colorado Springs
with bedbug problems, and with a recent surge in the number of
renters and a seemingly unstoppable rise in bedbug cases, such
landlord-tenant disputes are likely to increase, as well.
"I think probably every apartment community in town has had an
outbreak at one time or another," says Pat Stanforth, senior vice
president of Griffis/Blessing, a Colorado Springs real estate
company that manages about 4,000 apartment units.
So, it pays for both sides to know their rights, responsibilities
and a little bit about landlord-tenant laws. That's not usually a
problem for many landlords, especially ones who have multiple
properties. They tend to be savvy businesspeople who likely have a
working relationship with an attorney.
Tenants, however, are usually in the dark about how to legally
handle landlord problems. There is a Colorado law on their side
that establishes a warranty of habitability - essentially a
guarantee to tenants that the property they're renting is fit for
human habitation. But if they don't know about it, or don't fully
understand, it won't help their case.
"It's a complicated statute, and the notices the tenants have to
give are specific," says Theresa Kilgore, managing attorney for the
Colorado Legal Services office in Colorado Springs.
Sometimes, frustrated renters will stop paying rent, which could
trigger an eviction, or they'll break their lease by moving
"Anytime a tenant has some sort of issue and has a concern about
the issue, they need to look at the (warranty of habitability)
statute and the lease, and read those together," says Amanda
Halstead, a Denver real estate attorney. "But it's really important
not to act on impulse, because you may lose the right you have or
compromise those rights."
MORE THAN BEDBUGS CAN BITE
Bedbugs aren't the only issue to come between a tenant and a
landlord. Renters have called various agencies and attorneys in
town with complaints about mold, broken appliances, faulty
furnaces, leaky roofs and whatever else can fall apart in a
But bedbugs tend to be more intractable, making them a challenge
for even the most diligent landlord to eradicate.
"It's very difficult to get rid of them," says Ken Lewis, code
enforcement administrator for Colorado Springs. "The tenant and
landlord have to cooperate with the exterminator. You can't just go
in and spray like you do with roaches and call it good. And the
hard part sometimes is getting everybody to do their part. If
bedbugs are in an adjacent apartment, they could be coming through
Even if the bedbugs are eradicated, all it takes is one tenant to
move in with small colony of bedbugs tucked into an old mattress or
That may be what has happened where Greer lives. She says she was
told her apartment was bedbug-free when she moved in, but within
hours, she started seeing them. One of her neighbors later told her
that a former tenant had bedbugs but didn't report them. And then,
he said, they spread.
"Me, personally, I think they're in the plumbing," says Greer's
neighbor, who asked not to be identified for fear of getting
evicted. "We've seen quite a few."
Greccio, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing to low- and
moderate-income people, has a two-tier approach to fighting
bedbugs, says executive director Lee Patke. The first involves
giving residents an "action item" sheet that lays out their
bedbug-fighting tasks, such as frequent vacuuming and keeping the
floors uncluttered. Then, Greccio brings in an extermination
company to spray over several months. The second tier involves
bringing in a team to help people who, for whatever reason, might
not be able to follow the cleaning protocol.
Greccio also encourages people not to buy secondhand mattresses or
"Someone with limited resources might think it's a great deal, but
all of a sudden, we have bedbugs introduced into the apartment
complex, and they can potentially migrate from apartment to
apartment," Patke says.
Greer says she follows the rules, wears surgical booties when she
visits other apartments, and has had her apartment sprayed four
times, but to no avail.
"I vacuum every day. There's no clutter in my house," she says. "I
just want to get out and get my deposit back."
OPTIONS FOR HELP ABOUND
Greer and others in the same situation have several options, the
first being to work with the landlord to resolve the problem.
"Most residents are very reasonable," says Stanforth. "Sometimes,
though, people don't give you a realistic time frame to try to
correct the problem. Sometimes, it's just easier to allow them to
break the lease."
Tenants whose landlords refuse to deal with bedbug problems can
also call the city code enforcement office.
"The code allows us to get after the manager or owner and hire a
licensed exterminator," Lewis says.
When all else fails, it may be time to contact an attorney. For
low-income renters, Colorado Legal Services might seem the best
option, but the nonprofit is not inclined to take the cases, mostly
because it's short-staffed, said staff attorney Steve Flynn. Still,
it's worth a call, Kilgore says, because there could be instances
where they might accept the case.
Kilgore notes that tenants who sue and win can recoup attorneys
fees and other expenses, so contacting a private attorney may be
the best option. It is, however, a gamble, should they lose.
"The tenant has so much at risk when there's a dispute with a
landlord, meaning they could be homeless" Flynn says.