The Department Of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) has come up with new guidelines to deal with cases of bed bugs reported by tenants. However, the new guidelines have raised eyebrows. Whereas the earlier guideline wore more of a holistic look, the new set is more in the form of advocacy for landlords than anything else. What really differs from the two is the terms of treatment. The old guideline had put the onus of bed bug extermination squarely on the landlord, the present guideline asks the tenant to cooperate with the landlord in doing so and that may include sharing the cost of extermination. This is what many tenancy rights advocates are jittery about.
Multi-Family Subsidized Properties
Bed bugs are a persistent problem in subsidized and public multi-family apartments. A high rate of tenant turnover, economic and educational backwardness, ease of spread of bed bug between units, various limitations to communication like language barriers et all contribute to chronic bed bug infestation. Policymakers have recognized the urgency to address this situation in light of surveys that have depicted a grim scenario of a resurgence in bed bug infestation in urban United States. In light of this, the HUD had brought out its bed bug management guideline for subsidized housing. However, the recent tweaks in the old guideline leave much to be desired.
The most significant change in the recent bed bug management guideline is that the whole section related to Tenant’s Rights And Responsibilities has been done away with. This is a major deviation from the earlier approach in order to dilute the rights of tenants. According to the terms of the previous guidelines, tenants just needed to report a bed bug problem to the landlord. It was the landlord who was supposed to exterminate these nagging urban pests at his own cost. In fact, it was explicitly mentioned therein that the tenant was not expected to contribute to the cost of bed bug extermination. The previous notice also explicitly prohibited owners from charging a penny for bed bug treatment.
However, the new guideline seems to prefer a tenant-driven solution to the problem. In fact, few lines in the recent notice serve as an eye opener for tenancy rights advocates. It states that tenants are expected to fully cooperate with the landlord’s efforts to identify and address infestations. At other places of the notice, it also states “requests for tenants to pay the cost of infestation treatment must be in accordance with the provision for tenant payment of damages.” This is a pointer to a new concept that colors bed bug infestation with the same brush as damages caused by tenants. This is what is worrying tenants and tenant’s rights advocates. Such shifting of burden from landlord to the tenant in such low income, subsidized housings may lead to not reporting of bed bugs. Tenants may refuse to disclose bed bugs and this may contribute to spread of the menace of these urban bests.
Nevertheless, one can take heart from the fact that the HUD spokesperson has denied that there has been any dilution in the rights and responsibilities of tenants.