After experiencing a bedbug attack in their apartment, a Maryland couple filed a lawsuit against their landlord, demanding $500,000 to compensate them for lost possessions and emotional trauma.
The couple claim their trauma was heightened because they lived in the apartment with their three-year-old child.
To eliminate the bedbug infestation, the husband and wife claim they were forced to throw out many of their possessions, including toys. The wife, bitten a couple of dozen times, required therapy.
Both the landlord and the property manager are named as defendants in the lawsuit. The allegations include failure on the part of the property manager to adequately address a bedbug outbreak in an adjacent apartment.
Demanding $500,000 does not mean that the couple will be awarded that much from a jury if the case goes to trial. However, roughly nine out of ten litigation cases end in settlement. Landlords who are racking up huge legal bills defending a case like this one are vulnerable, and may opt to offer a settlement in order to cut losses, and to avoid the risks posed by a sympathetic jury.
Settlements are often kept confidential, so there is no way of knowing for certain whether other landlords have paid tenants for bedbug cases. There are a couple of sizable settlements on record, perhaps the most notable being a purported $150,000 that the Helmsley in New York paid out to a businessman attacked a few years ago, at the beginning of the current bedbug pandemic.
A New Jersey couple was awarded $49,000 against a furniture store that transmitted the bugs via warehoused upholstery. In Florida, a jury found that a hotel had a duty to inspect rooms for signs of bedbugs and take remedial action to avoid spreading the infestations.
In another case, a tenant sued the landlord because he claimed the pesticides used to treat bedbugs made him sick.
With bedbugs so easily transmittable, and so difficult to annihilate, bedbug lawsuits could be a sign of things to come for landlords.
A couple of tips that can improve a landlord’s odds of avoiding or winning such a claim include:
Contract with a reputable and experienced pest-control company to perform inspections and eradicate bedbugs. This is a two-pronged defense because it may prevent the problem in the first place, and it also shows that the landlord acted reasonably, which can defuse a negligence claim.
Follow the prescribed treatment plan from the pest-control expert.
Act on bedbug reports immediately, because outbreaks can spread quickly throughout a property.
Keep lines of communication open with tenants at all times. Often, if tenants feel they can come to the property manager or landlord with problems and get results, their frustration does not boil over into a lawsuit.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.