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Can You Get Out of a Lease for Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are some of the worst pests to invade a home. Although they don’t cause serious damages and diseases like a vermin or cockroach infestation, they depreciate the value of the property because they’re extremely difficult to get rid of completely. But aside from single-unit homes, apartments and condominiums are also prone to bed bug infestations.

So is it possible to break the lease agreement for a rental unit in CA because of bed bugs? Pests are a huge problem in most rental units. Bed bug infestations in California are special cases, which is why they have specific state laws that address the issue. Both tenants and landlords are allowed to break the lease depending on the conditions of the bedbug infestation, so it’s important to consult an attorney first to avoid legal consequences.

Is It Possible to Terminate a Lease in CA Because of Bedbugs?

Bed bugs are a huge nightmare for people because they’re extremely difficult to get rid of for good. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), most of the bed bug infestations reported to pest control companies happened in single-family homes (91%), apartments and condominiums (89%), and hotels or motels (68%).

In some situations, people only find out that their rented apartment is crawling with bed bugs shortly after they move in. Because of this, many people start to wonder if it’s legal to terminate their lease contract because of the critters in their midst. Although it’s a lengthy process, it’s possible to end a lease due to a bed bug infestation — just make sure to hire a good bed bug lawyer to guide you through the process.

But before you terminate the lease because of bed bugs, there are certain conditions that tenants and landlords must meet first:

Conditions for Tenants

Tenants in California and other states in the US have the right to live in a rental unit with habitable conditions. The presence of bed bugs or other pests in their rented apartment is a breach of the warranty of habitability, which is why landlords are required to solve this problem for a given time before the tenant takes legal action.

Renters are legally allowed to break their lease if they prove that the bed bugs have been there before they moved in. This is known as a “constructive eviction” because the landlord failed to fulfill their duty of providing habitable conditions for the tenant. They’re also allowed to break the lease if they reported the bed bug problem to the property owner, but the latter did nothing about it or didn’t act quickly enough.

However, tenants should give proper notice to the landlord first if they’re planning to break the lease. The letter should also state their reason for leaving. Failure to do this might result in legal consequences, including paying for the remaining months of the lease agreement or shouldering the entire costs of the extermination job. It’s important to consult an attorney first about the case so that you may leave the bedbug-infested apartment with no attachments.

If you’re planning to break the apartment lease because of a bad case of bed bug infestations, here’s how to do it right:

  • Gather evidence of the bed bug infestation. Take photos of the bed bugs, blood stains, and bite marks. If there are other pests in the unit like cockroaches and mice, take pictures of the evidence of their presence too.
  • Call a pest control company to inspect the unit first to get a professional diagnosis of the infestation’s severity.
  • Tell the landlord or property owner about the insect or pest infestation. The bed bug problem isn’t a landlord’s responsibility unless they know about it, so make sure to call them and put the complaint in writing. Keep records of the conversations and other important documents in case you might need them in court.
  • Wait for some time (usually about 30 days) until the landlord calls exterminators. Ensure that you’re always asking for updates about the problem.
  • Write a letter to the landlord and explain the decision to move out because they failed to treat the bug infestation within the time allotted by the law. Inform them that what you’re doing is legal under California law. Mail the letter to the landlord along with the unit’s keys. Make sure to keep a copy of the letter.
  • Move out of the rental unit. The lease is already considered broken at this point unless the landlord decides to challenge it. The tenant is no longer required to pay the remaining rent or follow any of the lease terms, but they’re no longer allowed to live in the unit either.

Conditions for Landlords

Although it’s usually the tenants who break the lease because of bed bug infestation, property owners in California may also terminate the contract or even sue a tenant if they prove that the tenant was responsible for bringing the bed bugs into the rental unit.

As much as California landlords are required to provide habitable conditions for their tenants, the latter is also responsible for keeping the unit clean and sanitary. Carrying bed bugs into the unit is considered a breach of negligence that’s punishable if the landlord has suffered damages.

However, the source of bed bugs might be difficult to prove in most cases which is why the property owner must submit evidence that the infestation was “more likely than not” caused by the tenant. Here is a list of admissible evidence that the landlord may use in court:

  • Photos or reports of the pest control operator’s findings showing that the rental unit was free of bed bugs or a similar pest problem when it was rented out to the new tenant
  • A bed bug addendum signed by the new tenant, which shows that the latter agreed that the unit was bedbug-free before moving in
  • Photos or written reports that the tenant didn’t keep their unit clean and sanitary. This may come from the landlords themselves or other tenants within the property.
  • A report given by the bed bug exterminator which states the approximate source and time of the infestation

Important Bedbug Civil Codes in California

The state of California has updated its laws after there was a surge in the reports of bed bug infestation in rental units over the past decades. It’s important to know about these laws first if an individual is planning to break their lease, whether as a tenant or as a landlord. Here are some of the most important bedbug civil codes in California to be aware of:

1. Civil Code 1942.5

This bed bug law prohibits landlords from retaliating against a tenant who reported a bed bug infestation in their apartment building. This means that tenants won’t get evicted for any reason like nonpayment of rent until the suspected bed bug infestation has been cleared up.

2. Civil Code 1954.602

This code prevents landlords from leasing, renting, or at least showing a rental unit to a prospective tenant if they know it has bed bugs. Although it’s not required for landlords to schedule a bed bug inspection for a unit unless they have a suspicion that it has bed bugs, they shouldn’t lease a unit with obvious signs of bed bug infestation to new tenants.

This is also not required by the state of California, but most landlords keep an approved bed bug clearance file issued by a professional pest control operator. This is an important document that proves the unit was free of bed bugs before the tenants moved in and protects the landlord from a possible bed bug lawsuit.

3. Civil Code 1954.603

Landlords are required by the law to educate their tenants about bed bugs, which is why Civil Code 1954.603 provides specific instructions about the content of the bed bug notice given to the tenants in a rental unit. In addition to the information about bed bugs, the notice should also include the right procedure for reporting the suspected infestation to the property owner.

Landlords are advised to copy the entire passage of the California civil code section that talks about bed bugs for their tenants, but they’re also encouraged to take additional precautions fit for their needs and situation.

The initial passage of the Civil Code 1954.603 includes sections like bed bug identification and appearance, life cycle and reproduction, bed bug bites, common signs and symptoms of a possible bed bug infestation, a list of websites with more information about bed bug infestations, and required practices for bed bug treatment.

4. Civil Code 1954.604

This law requires the property owners to schedule and monitor follow-up treatments of the infected units, as well as the surrounding units until the infestation has been eliminated. They should also give notice of the pest control company’s intent to enter.

Under this law, the tenants are required to follow and cooperate with the inspections and requests of the bed bug exterminators during the detection and treatment of the infestation. The law was amended in favor of landlords since they now have the legal rights to fight tenants who refuse entry for bed bug removal treatments. This prevents uncooperative tenants from turning their backs and suing the landlords like before.

5. Civil Code 1954.605

This law requires a property owner or landlord to notify the tenant of the pest control company’s findings within two business days after the initial inspection was done. If the infestation happened in a common area, the landlord must notify all the residents of the building.

It’s also better to post the entire reports provided by the pest control company instead of having the property’s management interpret them for the residents. There might also be cases where some of the information must be redacted since it only concerns specific residents in the building.

The landlords should also ask the bed bug control company to provide full details about the chemicals used for treating the infestation in the building. The property manager is responsible for coordinating with pest control operators to avoid triggering the allergies of some of the tenants in the building during the treatment.

Get Rid of Bedbugs for Good With California Bed Bug Exterminators

Bed bugs are a serious problem in many rental units all over the country. Although the effort of tenants and landlords is important to prevent bed bugs from infesting a property, there are still situations when the critters find their way into the cleanest apartments.

Here at California Bed Bug Exterminators, we offer safe and effective bed bug treatments to get rid of these pests for good. Our team of highly trained technicians has the right tools and years of experience to get the job done as soon as possible. Call us now to schedule an inspection for your rental property.