Recently I read an article about a group of Denver firefighters who, in addition to being attacked by the flames they were trying to put out, were also being attacked by the bed bugs trying to escape the flames. Gross.
While bed bugs, apparently, are an occupational hazard firefighters must occasionally face – what about condominium associations? Condo associations regularly deal with water leaks, sewer backups, mold, … but bed bugs? Do condo associations have an obligation to eliminate bed bug infestation?
That depends. Typically, a condominium association is not responsible for maintaining or repairing the interior of the units. The declaration usually places this responsibility on individual unit owners. And, since an infestation of bedbugs does not often originate in the common elements, the association’s failure to maintain the common elements would not be the cause of a bedbug infestation. So, if a single unit has a bed bug infestation, the association should not be liable for the infestation itself or for eliminating it.
However, what if the bed bugs move from one unit to the next? Bed bugs can migrate from one infested unit into another via electrical wiring, plumbing, and adjoining walls. If the association is on notice that there are bed bugs in the common element walls or other common element systems, the association has an obligation to eliminate the infestation in the common element. This is due to the association’s obligation to maintain the common elements such as walls; maintenance would naturally require eradication of any bed bugs found in those common walls.
In addition, often a condominium declaration will require the association to take steps to minimize or prevent further damage to other units or common elements, once it is on notice that the source of damage is within the common elements.
Failure to act
Failure to eliminate the bed bugs from the common element walls, once the association is on notice of infestation, could give rise to an owner’s claim for failure to maintain the common elements or, even worse, endangering the health and safety of the condominium community. Therefore, once on notice of multiple unit infestation, the association should take action to investigate, treat, and eradicate the infestation within the common elements. In addition, the association should require owners to treat any infestations within their units. If owners fail to do this most declarations will allow the association to treat the unit and charge the owner for all incurred cots.
To reduce exposure to bedbug infestations, the association should educate all occupants on bed bugs, the possible causes, and how to eliminate them. Here are some useful links:
The board can adopt a policy requiring owners to treat any bed bug infestations within their own units. If an owner fails to treat his/her unit’s infestation, which then causes infestation in the common elements or other units, the policy should indicate that the owner will be held responsible for any costs of treatment.
The policy should also require owners/occupants to report bed bug infestations immediately to the association. The association can then investigate and determine whether any bed bugs have infiltrated the common element walls and, if so, eliminate any common element infestation.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite – take proactive steps to protect your community BEFORE bed bugs take up residency.