Renters could face cleanup bill for bedbugs

Wilmington Star News
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

There aren't many barricades against them.

They can hitch a ride in your luggage, cling to clothing and travel on used beds and couches.

And the growing problem of bedbugs around the nation hasn't left Wilmington untouched.

But during a time when the bugs are in the spotlight, a proposed bill in the N.C. General Assembly is seeking to make landlords less liable for the critter's invasion of a rental unit by shifting more responsibility onto the tenant.

Some oppose it as a potential blow to tenants' rights.

"This law does not adequately protect the rights of tenants," said Richard Klein, senior managing attorney at the Legal Aid of N.C. Wilmington office.

He said some responsibility of home maintenance would shift. He pointed to current state law that says landlords must "make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell McCormick, R-Yadkin, passed the House and could be acted on by the Senate next year.

The bill would shift responsibility of getting rid of the bugs to tenants 60 days after they move in if the landlord had the building inspected beforehand.

If bedbugs are found, it does hold the landlord responsible for making sure all neighboring units are free of the bugs. The landlord would have to obtain a written report of that.

The proposed bill comes at a time when the blood-sucking vermin are on the rise.Bedbugs have made national news in crowded New York City, and a survey by the National Pest Management Association says they have become a problem nationwide, according to the nonprofit organization.

The survey says pest management professionals across the U.S. have responded to more bedbug-related exterminations in the last 10 years.

In Wilmington, Bug-N-A-Rug Exterminators service manager Stuart Flynn said he has seen a spike in reports of the bugs, which had been under control in the U.S. since post-World War II.

"I bet we have had six or seven calls today already," he said on Monday. "That is much more than we are used to."

The bill would also make landlords provide educational material about the bugs to tenants. Education about the bugs might be driving somee of the increase in calls, Flynn said.

"There is an increasing awareness, and people who are worried," he said.

Steve Abarno, Bugs, Etc. manager and a registered technician, said people are also looking for preventive measures. The do-it-yourself store has seen more customers asking about bedbug prevention and remedies.

"We have definitely seen an increase in the amount of people asking about bedbugs than last year," he said. "It has become an issue."

He noted that there has also been a spike in the number of residential and commercial units seeking his services.