Is your landlord responsible for clearing a bedbug infestation? City Council says so in amended bill

Bedbugs are seen in a container from the lab at the National Pest Management Association, during the National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Bedbugs are seen in a container from the lab at the National Pest Management Association, during the National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Philadelphia landlords will be on the hook to pay the full cost of bedbug remediation, if an infestation is discovered within the first year of a lease, under a bill amended Thursday by City Council. 

The new amendment won unanimous approval from Council after multiple prior amendments and a tense pre-hearing confrontation in the caucus room.  A final vote on the bill is expected next week. 

Although Philadelphia’s been called the most bedbug-infested city in the country, there aren’t existing laws delineating landlord-tenant responsibilities for bedbug infestations or even a formal legal mechanism for reporting them. The Health Department doesn’t focus on the critters because they don’t spread disease, and the Department of Licenses and Inspections isn’t concerned with them because they don’t cause structural damage.

The original bill, proposed by Councilman Mark Squilla, would hold landlords responsible for the extermination of bedbugs if they were found and reported within the first 90 days of a lease agreement. After that 90-day window, tenants would share the responsibility — and the cost — of investigating and remediating the itchy problem. When it first reached council committee, landlords protested the bill, saying it wasn’t friendly to their needs. So Squilla amended the bill to shorten the window to 30 days.

But tenant advocates said that wasn’t a long enough time for renters to find, identify, and report a possible infestation.

“All the experts say that you’re not going to know about bedbugs for maybe six, eight or even 10 months,” said George Gould, senior attorney at Community Legal Services.

So Squilla amended it again.

The bill that passed City Council today allows tenants an extended window to find and report bedbugs — up to one full year from the beginning of their lease. It also provides protections for tenants in multifamily buildings with bedbug infestations in another unit or adjacent rowhouse, who will now have an additional six months to report if they suspect an infestation in their unit, Gould said.

“We think the bill is acceptable,” said Gould. “It’s not exactly what we wanted. But this has been going on for a long time, and we want to get something started.”

Squilla agrees the bill isn’t the end of the conversation. 

“Overall, everybody’s a little bit upset,” Squilla told PlanPhilly. “So I think we reached a good place. The bill will have a chance at least to work out, and if we find out the need to adjust it in the future, we’ll be able to amend that moving forward.”

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