Q&A: Remediating Bedbugs

Who is legally responsible for 1) coordinating treating and 2) paying for treating bedbugs in a condominium unit? If one of the condo units is rented out to a tenant by the unit owner, does that change things? Once it spreads, what happens then? If the unit owner is responsible for paying, can the association coordinate and require professional treatment? Or only if the owner fails to act within a certain timeframe?

—Bugged Out in Brighton

“The general rule for condominiums is that a unit owner must repair and maintain their unit while the association does the same for the common areas,” says Gary Daddario, an attorney at the law firm of Perkins & Anctil in Westford, Massachusetts. “The party undertaking the project will typically coordinate and pay for the project. A bedbug infestation presents a circumstance that may warrant a break from the norm. Many times, when a bedbug infestation is discovered, it is already impacting multiple units and common areas. Thus, it is appropriate for the association to become involved. By coordinating the contractor, the work and the payment (at least initially), the association can best confirm that the work will be initiated without delay and completed properly.

“In the rare instance in which the infestation is discovered and contained inside one unit, the association may utilize a provision found in almost all condominium documents. This provision allows the association to demand that the unit owner undertake the necessary remedy and, in the event the unit owner fails to do so, for the association to step in and undertake the necessary measures. In the event that the association must take action in such circumstances, the association may reserve the right to assess the expenses to the subject unit.

“As to the party ultimately responsible for the expense, this is a question for the board’s discretion and, possibly, a court’s determination. Pursuant to the Massachusetts Condominium Statute, an association can assess a unit owner for: 1) common expense assessments as per the association’s budget; and 2) misconduct. To the extent that a unit owner unwittingly returns from vacation with a bedbug stowaway, one might reasonably question whether they have committed misconduct (notwithstanding that they are clearly the party responsible for introducing the pest to the association). On the other hand, circumstance such as repeat infestations, improper unit maintenance or a refusal to cooperate with the necessary remedy may justify the association finding that the unit owner has committed wrongful acts.

“Finally, whether the unit owner occupies the unit or leases the same to a tenant does not impact the analysis above. Pursuant to the Massachusetts Condominium Statute, a unit owner bears full responsibility to the association for the unit owner’s family, tenants and invitees.”