Janauary 2012 – Last August, New York legislators passed a law requiring that rental buildings must disclose any bedbug infestation history, and some real estate agents are requiring New York co–ops to make such disclosures in sales, too. Yet no matter where your HOA is located, you should be preparing for a bedbug infestation—but how in heaven’s name does an HOA do that?

So Far, Bedbugs Haven’t Invaded Many HOAs

“Thank god, but no, I’ve not had one bedbug case!” reports Ben Solomon, an attorney and founder of the Association Law Group in Miami Beach, Fla., who advises more than 500 associations and also represents developers through his second law firm, Solomon & Furshman LLP.

“Thankfully, I haven’t had clients with bedbugs,” echoes Duane McPherson, Addison, Texas–based western region division president at RealManage, an association management firm that oversees properties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Texas.

Nathaniel Abbate Jr.’s clients haven’t been as lucky. “Yes, I’ve had clients that have had bedbugs,” reports the partner at Makower Abbate & Associates PLLC in Farmington Hills, Mich., who represents associations. “Obviously, it’s a problem related to mainly stacked condos, not subdivisions.”

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Even if your HOA hasn’t seen a single bedbug, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to get on top of the issue—even if you live in the toniest of properties. “On the issue of vermin generally, all multifamily buildings have to have a program of extermination,” says Robert Galvin, a partner at Davis, Malm & D’Agostine PC in Boston who specializes in representing condos and co–ops. “I don’t care if it’s the Ritz. The pesky little critters will sooner or later appear, and you really have to exterminate the whole building because if you don’t, they’ll just move from unit to unit.”

McPherson also suggests getting ahead on the issue of bedbugs. “That’s one of the most worrisome things we all need to think about as far as condo living,” he says. “If you travel, it’s very easy to bring them home. And once bedbugs establish themselves, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of them.”

Abbate suggests his clients adopt a clear bedbug policy. “We’ve advised the associations that brought it to our attention that they do have rulemaking authority, and the best way to deal with the issue is to be proactive,” he explains. “We recommend coming up with a policy as part of your HOA’s rules and regulations. Even in associations that haven’t received any reports of bedbugs, we suggest they adopt policies to facilitate the potential prevention and treatment of the problem.”

Here’s what Abbate suggests covering in a policy:

  • An explanation of what bedbugs are and a description of what they look like
  • Information on how to prevent them from invading and how to detect infestation
  • A rule that if owners detect a bedbug infestation, they’re required to report it to the HOA, along with a rule that failure to report may result in costs and fines being levied against them
  • A procedure stating that if owners notify the HOA of an infestation, the HOA will contact the appropriate pest professional for an inspection and send notice to all owners of any confirmed infestation, along with instructions for prevention of further spread.
  • A requirement that the cost of investigation and extermination will be assessed to the owners of the affected units.

Why make owners pay for bedbug eradication? “It’s not something the association has brought upon itself,” says Abbate. “Even though people may inadvertently bring bugs in, it’s still their problem that they should be responsible for.”

Finally, if your HOA allows rentals, make sure your bedbug policy address tenants, too. “A lot of condos that allow rentals are starting to get tenants to sign statements that they’re bedbug free and that if there’s a problem, the tenants will pay to get rid of it,” says McPherson. “It’s something HOAs need to start thinking about—addressing that issue and making certain owners and tenants are aware of their responsibilities if an infestation should occur.”

HOA Leader

Matt Humphrey is president of the Alameda, California-based, from which this article was adapted.

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