Do you have a plan to address bed bugs in your association? 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 take note and consider implementing a bed bug plan to protect their association.

Background

Declared a public nuisance by the city of Chicago in 2013, bed bugs are an ever-present concern, especially for condominium associations located in high rise buildings.  Though no association, not even a small three unit association, is immune from the effects of these little pests, high rise buildings face the greatest threat due to the ease in which bed bugs migrate from one unit to the next.

Bed bugs are very small and difficult to detect, and thus make good hitchhikers. They can be brought in to associations by unit owners and visitors alike, and are most often introduced by travelers who unknowingly picked them up in more public venues (think hotels, taxis, trains, airplanes, etc.). Pets, bags, and clothes are all normal means of bed bug transportation, and once in, these tiny 5 millimeter pests can live for months given favorable temperatures and feeding.

Relevant Law

For associations in the city of Chicago, a Bed Bug Ordinance was adopted in 2013 in response to the emergence of bed bugs in community living environments. The ordinance requires condominium associations and cooperatives to take specific action, including:

  • the establishment of a pest management plan for the detection, and
  • inspection and treatment of bedbugs within their buildings.

Further, condominium unit owners, and lessees with a proprietary lease in a cooperative, are required to notify the governing association of known or suspected bed bug infestations in their unit, and must cooperate with the association in the control, treatment, and eradication of bed bug infestations.

There remains little case law in Illinois providing direction from the courts on what further obligations an association has related to bed bugs.  What is clear is that associations are best protected from potential liability when they:

  • have a bed bug 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 plain that doing nothing is not an option. The association must be involved in mitigation if it hopes to successfully insulate itself from liability in legal actions brought by its residents.

The Association’s Plan

The association’s pest management plan should give clear guidance to all residents as to the steps to take if they suspect they have a bed bug infestation.  This plan should include:

  • instructions on how to report an infestation,
  • a description of the inspection process and options,
  • a description of the treatment process and options, and
  • a summary of resident 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

Preventing a bed bug infestation is a pro-active endeavor, which requires the cooperation of the entire association. The city of Chicago, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have each published educational materials that are accessible online, and can be shared with association residents seeking more information.

Many bed bug extermination companies offer preventative routine inspections at a reduced rate, which can give peace of mind to the owners. However, the Illinois Condominium Property Act only grants the Board the right to 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. Therefore, unit owners are not obligated to allow access to the association if an infestation has not already identified.

Detection

If bed bugs are detected in a unit, responsive inspections to the unit and all units surrounding a unit should be performed as quickly as possible to determine the extent of the problem and to prevent it from spreading.  In this scenario, the association can demand access to a unit 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 are 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.

Treatment

Beg bug treatments are notoriously invasive procedures. Furniture, linens, clothing, and other unit furnishings that could harbor stowaway pests, possibly even the baseboards, must first be removed.

Common treatments involve the use of chemicals throughout the unit and then heating the unit to eliminate the bed bugs. A professional bed bug exterminator should be consulted to determine the most effective treatment plan for your association, given the scope of the infestation.

In Conclusion

As the issue of bed bugs comes before the courts more often, rulings will inevitably provide more direction.  Until that time, associations must continue to take the threat of bed bugs seriously and develop 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.

If your community has not adopted a bed bug management plan, do not hesitate to contact our law firm. Since 1985, KSN has been a legal resource for community associations throughout the Chicagoland area. We have multiple offices including downtown Chicago, Mundelein, and Naperville. Please call 855-537-0500 or visit www.ksnlaw.com.

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