Buyer Beware – Bed Bugs

A former human scourge has once again caused panic among home and property owners, home buyers and real estate agents. Bedbugs have invaded every state in the United States and reports of infestations have increased exponentially across the country in recent years. In a national survey of pest control companies conducted by leading bed bug authority Michael Potter for Pest Management Professional, Potter found that “a whopping 91% of respondents reported that their organizations had encountered bed bug infestations in the past two years. Only 37% said they had found Bed Bugs more than 5 years ago”.

Until a few years ago, most pest control companies said it was unusual to receive even one or two calls a year about bed bugs. However, since 2004, bed bug complaints have grown exponentially and pest control companies across the country now average between 10 and 50 calls a week.

In major metropolitan areas, some companies are receiving 100 or more bed bug complaints each week. Some experts predict that 2008 will be the Year of the Bed Bug. Cindy Mannes, a spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, said bedbugs have become a serious problem in every state, noting, “There are some who call it the plague of the 21st century.

Bedbugs are an equal opportunity pest. Infestations have occurred across the country in the cooperatives of the rich and famous, in trendy condos, in luxury apartments and in upscale suburban homes. Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs are not caused by dirt or grime. Like lice and fleas, bed bugs are creatures of convenience. An annoying insect, they are not known to carry diseases, but they can cause considerable discomfort, both mentally and physically.

Almost eradicated in the U.S. after World War II, the banning of powerful DDT-based pesticides, along with increased international travel, has led to a national resurgence of the nuisance insect. Potter, an urban entomologist at the University of Kentucky, calls bedbugs the preeminent domestic pest in the U.S., on a par with cockroaches and rats. “This is a serious issue,” he recently told the New York Times. “This will be the plague of the 21st century, no doubt about it.”

If you’re buying a house or looking for a new condo or apartment, take the old adage “Buyer Beware” seriously. You may be moving into a house that’s been invaded by bedbugs. Most states require home sellers to provide buyers with an accurate statement that reveals the condition of the property, including pest infestations. However, there are gaps that should serve as a red flag for home buyers and their real estate agents.

Most real estate disclosure statements are quite broad and do not ask specifically about bed bug infestations. If any pest disclosure is specified, it is likely to be termites. Because bed bugs have not been a problem in the United States for so many decades, few current state or municipal codes specifically address them. In many states, sellers can choose not to fill out the disclosure statement and instead pay a fine that is credited to the buyer. For sellers with a bed bug problem, a fine of several hundred dollars may seem like an acceptable price to pay to make the sale.

Buyers and real estate agents should be aware that real estate disclosure laws that apply to home sales often do not apply to cooperative and condominium owners. Before you buy, check with your local building and health departments to find out what the regulations are in your area.

Although some states are considering adding specific bed bug regulations to their real estate laws, at this time the common law is generally on the seller’s side. As New York real estate attorney Edward Sumber told the New York Times, “Under the doctrine of caveat emptor – that the buyer beware – the seller has no affirmative obligation to disclose the circumstances of the apartment to the buyer.

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