Bed bugs are an equal opportunity pest.
Infestations have occurred across the country in fashionable condominiums, luxury apartments and in upscale suburban homes. Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs are not caused by filth or dirt. Like lice and fleas, bed bugs are creatures of convenience. A nuisance insect, they are not known to carry disease, but they can cause considerable discomfort, both mental and physical.
All but eradicated in the U.S. following World War II, the banning of powerful DDT-based pesticides, coupled with increased international travel, has brought about a nationwide resurgence of the annoying insect. Potter, an urban entomologist at the University of Kentucky, calls bed bugs the pre-eminent household pest in the U.S., on a par with cockroaches and rats.
If you’re buying a house or looking for a new condo or apartment, take to heart the old adage Buyer Beware. You may be moving into a home that has been invaded by bed bugs. Most states require home sellers to provide buyers with an accurate statement disclosing the property’s condition, including pest infestations. However, there are loopholes that should serve as a red flag to home buyers and Realtors.
Most real estate disclosure statements are fairly broad and do not specifically ask about bed bug infestations. If any pest disclosure is specified, it’s likely to be termites. Because bed bugs haven’t been a problem in the United States for so many decades, few current state or municipal codes address them specifically. In many states, sellers can choose not to fill out the disclosure statement and instead pay a penalty which is credited to the buyer. For sellers with a bed bug problem, a several hundred dollar penalty may seem an acceptable price for making the sale.
Buyers and Realtors should be aware that real estate disclosure laws that apply to home sales often don’t apply to co-op and condo owners. Before you buy, check with the local building and health departments to find out what the regulations are in your area. Although some states are now considering adding specific bed bug regulations to their realty laws, at this point common law is generally on the side of the seller. As real estate attorney Edward Sumber of New York told the New York Times, “Under the doctrine of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – the seller has no affirmative obligation to reveal circumstances about the apartment to the buyer.”
However, disclosure laws in most states require the seller to answer honestly if specifically asked whether his home or apartment has been infected by bed bugs or other pests. Additionally, real estate brokers are usually obligated to reveal a bed bug problem to the buyer if they know about it. Unfortunately, in most states sellers are not required to tell their real estate brokers about bed bug problems. Essentially, that means buyers must rely on the integrity of sellers and landlords anxious to make a sale.
Many buyers shopping for a new home, apartment or condominium are now hiring a pest control company with an expertise in bed bug elimination to inspect the property before they buy.
Some Realtors are recommending that sellers have their homes inspected for bed bugs before putting them on the market as both a reassurance and inducement to buyers.
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