Bed Bug Claims, Apartments and Rent Escrow

Bed bugs and apartment buildings are an inevitable and unavoidable combination.  The bed bug attorneys at Whitney, LLP have successfully recovered millions of dollars for our clients in bed bug claims and bed bug lawsuits who were leased bed bug infested apartments and who lived in infested apartments while the landlord failed to provide effective extermination services.  Although landlords have known for years of the risk of bed bugs in apartments,we have found that many landlords do not action to ensure that apartments are free of infestation at the time they are leased.

In Maryland, including in Baltimore City, Baltimore County,  Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, landlords and property managers are required to provide an apartment to their tenants that is free of infestation.  Many leases promise that apartments will be free of infestation and will be in compliance with city and county regulations, but when an apartment is infested with bed bugs, those regulations have not been followed, the law has been violated, and the tenants have legal rights that include suing for bodily injury, emotional distress, property damage and economic loss.

Apartment Bed Bug Claims and Whitney,LLP’s Bed Bug Lawyers

Whitney, LLP has filed many apartment bed bug lawsuits against property management companies for leasing bed bug infested apartments to tenants.  Most of our cases settle, but when they don’t we have won record verdicts against property owners and managers.  

Often times, once we become involved in the case, our initial investigation is able to locate the prior tenant, and after contacting them, we find that the prior tenant had also experienced bed bugs.  In legal terms, the fact that the prior tenant in an apartment had a bed bug infestation is called a “material fact” because it is a fact that a reasonable consumer would consider to be important in deciding whether or not to enter into the lease contract for the apartment.

Early Signs of Bed Bug Infestation In an Apartment

After moving into a bed bug infested apartment, tenants will often begin to noticed the signs of a bed bug infestation beginning as small, itchy bites on their skin.  These bites are often mistaken for mosquito bites, until the tenants notice that the bites are increasing in number and seem to appear in the morning after sleeping.  In cases of a heavy infestation, tenants may see bed bugs crawling on the ceiling and walls of the apartment during daylight hours immediately after moving into the apartment.  

Informing a Property Manager of a Bed Bug Infestation – Common Responses

The next step, after seeing bed bugs or noticing bites on the skin, is that the tenant will often ask their leasing agent or the property manager if bed bugs were ever reported in the apartment before they moved in.  We have found that if the leasing agent or property manager ignores the question, the answer is usually yes.  A common response is for the property management employee to tell the tenant that they have never had bed bug problems here before, and that the tenant must have brought the infestation.  In essentially every case that we have filed suit against a property management company about bed bugs, our client was never the first person to have bed bugs at the property.  We have also had many cases where the leasing agent or property manager flat out lied to our client by denying a history of infestation in the apartment.

Unfortunately, when  a tenant does not have an attorney representing them, property managers and leasing agents often get away without making a full disclosure to potential tenants or new tenants about a history of infestation in and around the tenant’s apartment.  They will often cite “confidentiality,” or other nonsense reasons, as the basis for why they cannot discuss the issue of prior bed bug infestations.  Obviously, there is no law that treats pest control treatments at an apartment as confidential information that cannot be shared with a tenant who asks about it.  However, many of our clients and many tenants are not aware of the law, or their rights, and do not know how to deal with a lying leasing agent or property manager.  The best way to handle the situation when a tenant feels like they are being lied to about a history of infestation is to contact a lawyer to discuss representation.  

Many of our clients contact us after feeling like they were being lied to by the property manager or leasing agent.  Our litigation strategy includes a thorough investigation of prior tenants and obtaining all relevant pest control records and work orders.  Once those records are obtained,and the prior tenants are interviewed, the true history of a certain apartment cannot be hidden any longer, and it is often the unfortunate case that the apartment was infested with bed bugs before the tenant moved in, or that an adjacent apartment was infested and not properly treated which caused the infestation to spread, or the entire building was badly infested with bed bugs.  In any of these cases, the information about bed bug infestations in or around the apartment should have been disclosed to the tenant before they signed the lease so they could make an informed decision about whether to risk moving into an apartment with a known history of infestation.  

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation that often happens to our clients is that the history of infestation is kept a secret until it is too late and the tenant has already moved their family and their furniture into the infested apartment.  Once a tenant has signed a lease, there are options to get out of the lease, but the tenant must act carefully to avoid being held liable for breaking the lease and being held accountable for additional months of rent after moving out.

Rent Escrow and Bed Bugs in Maryland

Many tenants of bed bug infested properties have chosen to file Rent Escrow actions in District Court against their property management company.  Maryland’s Rent Escrow law can be found in the Md. REAL PROPERTY Code Ann. § 8-211, which can be accessed in full for free here: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/mdcode/.

A Rent Escrow action is an action that a tenant can file against a landlord.  The argument is made that the conditions of the apartment are so bad as to cause a “serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants, ” and that as a result of the poor condition, the tenant should not have to pay rent to the landlord, or, be allowed to be released from the lease without any penalty.

The statutory definition of what conditions constitute eligibility for rent escrow are also provided here:

(e) Serious and substantial defects and conditions. — This section provides a remedy and imposes an obligation upon landlords to repair and eliminate conditions and defects which constitute, or if not promptly corrected will constitute, a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants, including, but not limited to:

  (1) Lack of heat, light, electricity, or hot or cold running water, except where the tenant is responsible for the payment of the utilities and the lack thereof is the direct result of the tenant’s failure to pay the charges;

  (2) Lack of adequate sewage disposal facilities;

  (3) Infestation of rodents in two or more dwelling units;

  (4) The existence of any structural defect which presents a serious and substantial threat to the physical safety of the occupants; or

  (5) The existence of any condition which presents a health or fire hazard to the dwelling unit.

In our experience and based on what our clients have shared with us, the success of a rent escrow action for a bed bug infested apartment often depends the proof that a tenant can bring to court with them to show the judge the extent of the infestation in the apartment and to show that the landlord has been given notice of the infestation and not taken sufficient steps to address and treat the infestation.  Photographs of bed bug bites taken of every person who lives in the apartment are good evidence of the physical injuries that the infestation of bed bugs are causing.  Medical records showing that the inhabitants of the infested apartment sought medical treatment for their bed bug bites may help to convince the court of the seriousness of the infestation, and also serve to document the extent of injuries that a tenant had at the time they were treated.

Whitney, LLP Recovers Compensation For Bed Bug Bites 

When a tenant realizes they have been leased a bed bug infested apartment, they often do not know exactly how to handle the situation.  The bed bug attorneys at Whitney, LLP know how to handle the situation, and can assist the tenant in obtaining maximum compensation for the injuries they have sustained, including bed bug bites, emotional distress, lost wages, damaged and discarded property.  Consultations are always free, and legal fees and expenses are only paid after Whitney, LLP recovers compensation for our clients.

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