Philadelphia landlords who go soft on bedbugs could face stiff penalties under a new bill proposed by City Councilman Mark Squilla.
Philadelphia is currently the only big city that does not employ laws outlining responsibilities for bedbug outbreaks or provide a legal mechanism to report infestations, even though the city is often ranked as having some of the most severe infestations in the country.
The legislation, introduced in a Thursday Council session, would require landlords to notify tenants about past bedbug issues, develop vector control plans, and investigate or exterminate infestations in a timely fashion. Hotel owners would also have to comply with similar regulations.
Squilla had previously served on an anti-bed bug task force after his own home became infested. But he said an earlier push to boost enforcement went nowhere due to a lack of interest from city regulatory agencies. Because bed bugs don’t spread disease, the Health Department does not consider the insects to be a major health concern. The Department of Licenses and Inspection's regulations target pests that can cause structural damage to buildings, like termites.
“We’re just tired of the answers that it’s not a city problem, there’s nothing we can do about it when we’re having all our residents and constituents that are suffering through it and the city was just wiping their hands of it,” Squilla said. “Combating departments really didn’t want the enforcement pushed on them … It’s going to now be part of the building code.”
The proposed regulations requires landlords to distribute informational notices about bed bug infestation or mitigation, and monitor units that draw complaints. The new bill also includes penalties for scofflaws, ranging from $2,000 fines to other damages, like a mandate to refund rental payments to tenants that suffer through bed bug infestations.
Legal advocates, like Community Legal Services, have pushed for tougher bedbug regulations as a tenant protection. Rasheedah Phillips, a lawyer with CLS, said that the lack of laws outlining responsibility for infestation helped the insects spread across the city and contributed to Philadelphia's eviction crisis.
“Seeing bed bugs proliferate and grow because no one was taking on the responsibility of extermination, or situations where people just did not know how to dispose of furniture or prepare a unit for extermination … often led to tenants being evicted or threatened with eviction,” she said.
A representative for the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, a landlord group that has opposed prior bed bug bills, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.