No Excuse: Bed Bugs in Section 8 Apartments in Baltimore
More than half a century ago, Congress passed the Housing Act of 1937 to help low-income families access improved living conditions. Specifically, “Section 8” of the Housing Act is designed to provide clean, safe, and affordable housing opportunities for individuals and families who are in need of financial assistance. Because Section 8 is a federal program, the rules and regulations pertaining to landlord responsibilities and tenants’ rights can be very different from those which apply to privately-owned buildings and apartment complexes. So how does Section 8 status affect legal responsibility for bed bug treatments? In this entry, our apartment bed bug lawyers will explain Section 8 tenants’ legal rights, including HUD guidelines for handling infestations.
HUD Rules and Requirements for Treating Bed Bugs in Section 8 Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is often referred to as HUD. The HUD Section 8 rental assistance housing program in Baltimore City is administered by Baltimore Housing’s “Housing Choice Voucher Program,” or the HCVP. Over 3,000 city landlords participate in the HCVP, collecting thousands of federally-funded rent checks every month.
Of course, HCVP properties are subject to the same hazards and conditions that all rental properties are subject to in Baltimore — but how are those hazards and conditions addressed?
Because HCVP properties are federally funded, participating landlords are bound not only by municipal and state laws, but also by federal law. HUD has made its bed bug policy clear, specifying that “housing must have no evidence of infestation.” Additionally, HUD has promulgated specific bed bug guidelines for property Operator/Agents (O/As), providing O/As with greater financial flexibility to address the rise in bed bug infestations. HUD’s current bed bug guidelines to O/As is set forth in Notice H 2012-5.
In Notice H 2012-5, HUD sets forth guidelines that — if actually followed by O/As — would go a long way toward improving and eventually preventing the infested condition of so many Baltimore City HCVP properties. Some of the key highlights of the Notice H 2012-5 are as follows:
- HUD housing must be decent, safe, sanitary and in good repair.
- HUD housing must have no evidence of insect infestation.
- HUD recommends that staff be trained to specifically identify bed bugs.
- Periodic building inspections for bed bugs are mandatory in buildings with prior infestations.
The notice also focuses on:
- Actively engaging residents and educating them in efforts to prevent bed bugs.
- Encouraging tenants to report suspicions of bed bugs.
- Encourage O/As to develop an Integrated Pest Management Program with preventative and proactive measures to combat infestations before they start.
Most importantly, Notice H 2012-5 provides O/As with a comprehensive set of tools to address infestations and accommodate tenants who are dealing with the nightmare of an infestation. Recognizing that the treatment of bed bug infestations can be expensive, HUD commendably provides economic flexibility to O/As in order to allow them to treat an infestation and help their tenants. For example:
- An O/A may request project resources from HUD for control of infestations.
- When other sources of funding are insufficient or unavailable, the local administrator may honor requests to reimburse O/As for infestation treatment by pest control companies.
- If reasonable temporary relocation of a tenant is necessary to treat an infestation, the O/A may request withdrawals from available project funds.
Landlord Negligence Feeds Apartment Infestations in Baltimore
A person who is unfamiliar with Baltimore’s bed bug landscape would understandably assume that with these guidelines in place, a bed bug would not be able to last more than a few days in an HCVP property before being promptly exterminated. Unfortunately, the reality is very different.
Regrettably, bed bug infestation is rampant in many HCVP properties in Baltimore. O/As routinely fail to hire pest control contractors to perform bed bug inspections and treatments, falling well short of the required standard of care. Elderly and disabled tenants are left to fend for themselves for years against ongoing infestations. Dozens of apartments in a single building are infested at a time with no meaningful treatment ever being applied. Over and over again, the presence of infestation is not disclosed to potential tenants, leaving the new tenants bitten and living in a nightmare.
Given that these tenants are receiving financial assistance to pay rent, they rarely have the resources to pick up and move out of the infested property. Instead, they are at the mercy of the negligent O/A.
These deplorable conditions play out on a daily basis in our city, with no end in sight. Despite actively litigating Baltimore bed bug cases against HCVP O/As, I have never come across on O/A who availed him- or herself of the HUD assistance programs listed above. The owners and operators of HCVP properties need to recognize that as long as they fail to utilize the available means to treat bed bug infestations and relieve their tenants’ suffering, they are to blame. Fortunately, our country provides the jury trial as a means for assigning responsibility and holding accountable those who shirk and neglect their duties.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a bed bug apartment infestation, the attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help. To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.