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N.H. Law Targets Bed Bug Infestations

Concord — New Hampshire landlords and tenants are teaming up under a new law aimed at eradicating infestations of the tiny, blood-sucking bed bug from rental housing.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, outlines the responsibilities landlords and tenants have in dealing with bed bug infestations. Advocates for the two groups — who sometimes are at odds over laws — worked together this year on legislation setting protocols in place so quick action would be taken to deal with the insects that leave telltale red bite marks on their victims.

Rick Castillo, coordinator of the New Hampshire Bed Bugs Action Committee, said the law is an effort to deal with the bugs quickly instead of turning first to the courts while the problem grows.

Elliott Berry, managing attorney for the Manchester office of New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said both sides were willing to give to establish clear protocols.

The new law calls for landlords to begin remediation within seven days of being notified by a tenant that bed bugs are in a rental. If the landlord fails to act, the tenant can ask a judge to order remediation.

The tenant must allow emergency entry to the landlord for 72 hours after notification. If the landlord gets a complaint from an adjacent unit, the landlord is allowed emergency entry into that unit with 48 hours of notice.

The landlord must provide written instructions for preparing the rental for remediation 72 hours in advance. Failure by the tenant to comply may lead to eviction, but landlords must allow for reasonable requests for other accommodations.

Landlords are required to pay up front for remediation, but tenants may be required to repay the landlord if they are responsible for the infestation. Landlords must attempt to work out a reasonable repayment plan with the tenant.

The tenant is presumed to be responsible if only his or her unit has bed bugs and there have been no other reports in the unit or adjacent units in the six months. Landlords can evict tenants responsible for an infestation who don’t pay for remediation if the landlord shows a reasonable repayment plan was offered to the tenant.

The law does not specify a form of remediation, but landlords must show a substantial reduction of the infestation in 60 days.

Spraying with pesticides or using an over-the-counter pesticide fogger drives the insects into the cracks and walls but does not eradicate them, Castillo said. The best way to eliminate bed bugs is through heat, such as by washing linens and clothes in hot water and drying on high heat. Special mattress encasements prevent biting and interceptor devices on the bed’s legs trap the bugs as they try to enter or leave. Commercial pest companies also can use special trucks to heat furniture to kill the insects.

Leaving infested furniture by the curb can spread the problem, Castillo said. He said the goal ultimately is to make the rental unit habitable.

“Landlords want to protect their investment and an early response to bed bugs is just like fixing a leaky pipe under a sink,” he said.