The Berkeley Rent Board awarded two tenants 100% of their rent back after a young couple moved into a room on University Avenue that already had a serious bed bug infestation.
One tenant testified that the very first morning after he slept in his new home he counted more than 80 bites. The couple said they slept in 4-hour shifts, with one staying on guard to fend off the bed bugs, for several weeks. Commissioners described the photos as “horrifying” and voted unanimously to uphold the hearing examiner’s award of a 100% reduction in rent for the time that the bugs were present.
According to documents in the Appeal heard by the Board on Monday night, a Vector Control inspection made just nine days after the renters moved into the living room suggested that the blood-sucking pests were in the unit well before the new renters arrived. According to the Rent Board staff’s legal recommendation in the appeal, the landlord should have known about the bugs. Not only would the owner have seen the “100’s to thousands” of bugs in the living room curtain had he checked the unit before renting it, but he should also have been aware of the pests since other tenants had moved because of bed bugs.
These tenants did everything right: they contacted the owner immediately, made their expectation that he hire a professional clear, contacted the Berkeley Rent Board, and arranged an Environmental Health inspection within days of the first bites. It seems they followed all the difficult steps in cooperation with the exterminator as well, because they got rid of the notoriously challenging bugs within weeks.
Unfortunately the owner initially made the situation worse by spraying some bug spray himself. There is no known over-the-counter treatment for bed bugs, and these bugs are known for spreading to other rooms and other units if disturbed by an ineffectual poison. Someone also said the landlord brought a blow torch into the unit to treat the furniture and dragged an infested mattress onto the roof to lay in the sun.
It is not known why the renters in the other two rooms in the unit did not join in the complaint. The landlord rents each room separately.
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