California's state legislators have a lot on their plates. They have before them the business of the state that is not only the nation's largest, but also, arguably, its most diverse. We should appreciate the fact that, with so much to do, our legislator's still have the time and energy to focus on matters of importance to the real estate business and to the concerns of those who both need and provide housing.
Thus it is today that we acknowledge and celebrate the passage into law of Assembly Bill 551 (Nazarian), signed into law by the Governor on September 25, 2016.
As described by the Assembly Legislative Analyst, "This bill seeks for the first time to establish the duties of landlords and tenants with regard to the treatment and control of bed bugs in rental housing. According to the author, bed bugs are a major problem in residential multifamily housing, and several California cities rank in the top 50 in the nation in terms of bed bug infestations, with Los Angeles now ranking at number two. The author states: ‘Cooperation between landlords and tenants is essential to effectively treat bed bugs… The absence of bed bug protocols and management laws leave landlords and tenants without clear direction on how to approach bed bug situations. The bill ensures landlords and tenants alike work together to resolve the issue in an equitable manner.'"
Assembly Bill 551 amends sections 1942.5 and 1954.1 of the California Civil Code. It adds section 1954.600 and following. Among other things, it requires:"On and after July 1, 2017, prior to creating a new tenancy for a dwelling unit, a landlord shall provide a written notice to the prospective tenant as provided in this section. This notice shall be provided to all other tenants by January 1, 2018. [my emphasis]
The notice shall be in at least 10-point type and shall include, but is not limited to the following:
General information about bed bug identification, behavior and biology, the importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment, and the importance of and for prompt written reporting of suspected infestations to the landlord."
The notice then goes on to describe what bed bugs look like, their life cycle, eating habits, etc. For details, I refer the reader to Civil Code section 1954.603
Importantly, the bill protects tenants from retaliation for reporting bed bug problems. It also spells out that "any entry to inspect the tenant's unit for bed bugs must still comply with the 24-hour advance notice required under Civil Code Section 1954, whether the entry is sought by the landlord or by the PCO [Pest Control Operator], or is for an initial inspection, or a follow-up inspection."
The landlord is then required to notify the tenants' of the PCO's findings. "The notification shall be in writing and made within two business days of receipt of the pest control operators findings. For confirmed infestations in common areas, all tenants shall be provided notice of the pest control operator's findings."
Two other important points result from the bill at section 1954.602 of the Civil Code:
"(a) A landlord shall not show, rent, or lease to a prospective tenant any vacant dwelling unit that the landlord knows has a current bed bug infestation." and
"(b) This section does not impose a duty on a landlord to inspect a dwelling unit or the common areas of the premises for bed bugs if the landlord has no notice of a suspected or actual bed bug infestation. If a bed bug infestation is evident on visual inspection, the landlord shall be considered to have notice pursuant to this section."
Be careful out there. Don't let them bite you.