Bedbugs have become the subject of widespread attention throughout the country. Current owners or prospective purchasers of residential rental properties (including single-family homes) need to be aware of a statute adopted in Maine in 2009 and updated this past summer regarding the treatment of bedbug infestation in rental property.
Under the statute, once a tenant notifies a landlord (the notice does not need to be in writing) that a unit may have a bedbug infestation, the landlord must conduct an inspection of the unit within 5 days. Upon a determination that an infestation exists, the landlord must contact a certified (and insured) pest control agent within 10 days. The landlord is obligated to “take reasonable measures to effectively identify and treat the bedbug infestation” as determined by the pest control agent, and must employ the agent to treat the infestation.
The statute also prohibits a landlord from offering a dwelling unit for rent that the landlord knows or suspects is infected with bedbugs. Further, the landlord is required to disclose to a prospective tenant if an adjacent unit is infested or is being treated for bedbugs and upon request from the tenant, the landlord must also disclose the last date that the dwelling unit the landlord seeks to rent or an adjacent unit was infested and found to be free of infestation. In addition, the statute requires a landlord to offer “reasonable assistance,” including financial, to a tenant who is unable to comply with requested bedbug inspection or control measures. Such assistance is mandatory where necessary but is subject to a repayment schedule.
The statute also imposes obligations upon the tenant, beginning with the prompt notification of the landlord when the tenant knows or suspects a bedbug infestation. Upon receiving a reasonable request from the landlord for access to the unit (including the reasons for and the scope of the request), the tenant must grant the landlord and its pest control agent access to the unit for inspection or control. The initial inspection is limited to a visual and manual inspection of the tenant’s bedding and upholstered furniture with some exceptions. If the pest control agent finds bedbugs, the agent may have additional reasonable access to the tenant’s personal belongings. The tenant is further required to comply with reasonable measures to eliminate and control an infestation as set forth by the landlord and the agent. If the tenant unreasonably fails to comply with the pest control measures, the tenant may become financially responsible for all further pest control measures.
The law imposes strict penalties upon a landlord for failure to comply, including a civil penalty of $250 or actual damages, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney’s fees. A landlord’s failure to comply with the statute within 6 months of the filing of an eviction action against the tenant also creates a rebuttable presumption the action was commenced in retaliation against the tenant’s rights, making eviction difficult. Finally, the landlord’s failure to comply with the statute constitutes a finding that the landlord has reasonably failed to take prompt effective steps to remedy a condition that endangers or materially impairs the health and safety of a tenant in a civil action filed by the tenant against the landlord.
With no evidence that the widespread bedbug infestation will abate anytime soon, and in light of the ambiguity of several sections of the statute’s revisions, we expect that the bedbug will become the subject of much litigation in Maine. The attorneys at Gosselin & Dubord, PA., have represented both commercial and residential landlords for more than thirty years and welcome calls from property owners who are in need of assistance in dealing with bedbugs. If you have any questions regarding bedbugs or need representation in connection with any landlord-tenant matter, please contact Attorney Paul R. Gosselin at (207) 783-5261 (extension 217) or firstname.lastname@example.org.