A growing area of concern for condominium associations, especially those located in high rise buildings, is bed bugs. Though no association, not even a small three unit association, is immune from the effects of these little pests, high rise buildings stand the greatest threat due to the ease in which bed bugs migrate from one unit to the next. These tiny bugs create anything but a small problem if not addressed aggressively and eradicated thoroughly. Though the below discussion is most relevant to large associations, all association board members should read this guide, and then consider implementing a bed bug plan to protect their association.
Because they are very small and difficult to detect, bed bugs make good hitchhikers. Bed bugs can be brought into an association by visitors from neighboring buildings and frequently are introduced through luggage brought back by traveling association residents. Once inside a building, they can easily move from unit to unit and floor to floor by crawling or hanging onto pets, bags and clothes. In high rise buildings, this means that inspections could be necessary on floors far removed any single detection of bed bugs, and all floors in between. Though cluttered units make an easy hiding place, all units are susceptible to an infestation as bed bugs are known to hide within furniture and can go for months without a meal.
As bed bugs are a relatively recent and emerging problem, there is little case law in Illinois providing direction from the courts on what obligations an association has related to bed bugs. What is clear is that those associations that have a plan or policy in place, actively work to prevent infestations, and aggressively address any reports of bed bugs are best protected from potential liability. The courts have made it clear that doing nothing is not an option and the association must be involved if it hopes to successfully insulate itself from liability in legal actions brought by its residents.
The association’s plan should give clear guidance to all residents as to the steps to take if they suspect they have bed bugs. This should indicate who to contact, describe the inspection process and options, describe the treatment process and options, and answer any questions that a resident may have about their rights and obligations. Further, this policy should fully explain who is financially responsible for any costs that may be incurred in this process and how those costs will be billed.
Prevention of bed bugs means not simply waiting for the problem to rear its ugly head, but rather getting out in front of this serious issue before it becomes just that. Many bed bug detection companies offer preventative routine inspections at a reduced rate. The purpose of this type of inspection is to confirm a bed bug free environment. Such an inspection should be done building wide to give owners peace of mind. It is important to note that without evidence of an infestation and possible damage to the association’s common elements or other units, the Association does not have an automatic right to access the units. Therefore, this type of inspection must be done on a voluntary basis.
Upon the detection of bed bugs, responsive inspections should be performed to determine the extent of the problem. To be effective, responsive inspections should be done to all units surrounding a unit with confirmed bed bug activity. This will allow the association to know the extent of the infestation and to prevent it from spreading. The Illinois Condominium Property Act grants the Board the right to have access to each unit as may be necessary for the maintenance, repair or replacement of any common elements or for making emergency repairs necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to other units. Based on this, the association can demand access to protect the common elements and other units and, if an owner refuses to grant such access, file a lawsuit seeking a court order granting access.
Inspections can be performed by human inspectors or by specially trained bed bug sniffing animals. Animal inspections can be less time consuming and may result in detection of infestations that are located within furniture and are not visible to human eyes. Human inspections may be beneficial for unit owners who have sensitivities to exposure to animals.
The treatments of known bed bug infestations are generally quite invasive. The removal of any clutter, linens, cloth window treatments and possibly even the removal of baseboards may be required. Common treatments include the use of chemicals throughout the unit and the heating of the unit to an adequate temperature to kill all existing bed bugs. A bed bug professional should be consulted to determine what treatment option is best and most likely to succeed.
As this issue comes before the courts more often, the rulings will inevitably provide more direction. Until that time, associations must take this issue seriously and have and follow a clear and known plan. The cost of prevention, detection and remediation is far less than what costs may be incurred due to an association’s failure to plan accordingly.
Since 1983, KSN has been a legal resource for condominium, homeowner, and townhome associations. Additionally, we represent clients in real estate transactions, collections, landlord/tenant issues, and property tax appeals. We have four office locations, serving hundreds of clients and thousands of communities throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Our attorneys are also licensed in Arizona, Florida, and Missouri.
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