Bedbug bill causes rash of debate in House subcommittee

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Little bugs opened a big debate in a House subcommittee hearing this afternoon.

Lawmakers heard conflicting – and at times graphic – testimony on legislation that would rewrite landlord-tenant law concerning bedbug infestations in rental housing.

The bill in question, House Study Bill 520, would add new requirements for tenants to report bedbug infestations to landlords, and potentially impose much more financial responsibility on tenants for exterminating those infestations.

Bedbugs are tiny parasites whose bites can cause itchy rashes. They thrive in furniture, linens and clothing, and are particularly problematic in multi-unit residences, where infestations can spread from one unit to adjacent ones.

(The specifics of their feeding habits on sleeping humans were described in graphic detail by one witness, prompting subcommittee Chairman Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, to admonish him that some people had not yet eaten lunch.)

Infestations have become more common across the country in recent years, and several landlords and landlord groups testified this afternoon that lawsuits over bedbug remediation have become more common and costly.

Landlords describe current law as far too onerous on the owners of rental property, and said the remediation responsibilities and lawsuits now result threaten their ability to provide housing at a reasonable price.

“We are not attempting to put all burden and responsibility on the tenant,” said Iowa Landlord Association Vice President Rex McClaflin. “Rather, we want them to accept responsibility in addition to our own so that we can successfully deal with this appropriately and economically.”

“This is a very serious burden to the state of Iowa because … this has the potential of bankrupting landlords,” McClaflin added. “So it has to have some kind of resolution that’s fair and economical.”

The state Attorney General’s Office, however, views the bill as throwing the burden of bed-bug remediation far too heavily on the tenants.

Bill Brauch, the director of the office’s Consumer Protection Division, said he had “never seen legislation so unbalanced on one side against the other.”

Measures in the bill require tenants to inform landlords of bed-bug infestations within seven days of moving in or within 48 hours of noticing the presence of the insects, and put the tenant on the hook for the entire cost of exterminating the pests – including for other units in an apartment building – if they fail to comply within those time frames.

The takes away incentives for landlords to address the problem at all, and is particularly threatening for elderly, handicapped or less sophisticated tenants who may not understand their requirements for addressing an infestation, Brauch argued.

“We need the landlords to work with the tenants to try to find a way to prevent this,” he said. “But to shift this burden, legally and cost-wise, to the tenants is just wrong. It’s just wrong.”

The meeting adjourned after about an hour with no action taken by the three-lawmaker subcommittee. Rogers said the subcommittee members would discuss the issue further, and suggested another hearing could be held before a vote is taken on sending the bill to the House’s full Judiciary Committee.

Tags: bed bugs, Bill Brauch, Iowa Attorney General's Office, iowa house, Walt Rogers

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Bedbug bill causes rash of debate in House subcommittee

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