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California Family Wins $1.6 Million Lawsuit Against Landlord Over Bed Bug Infestation: Jury Finds Landlord Responsible

By Ron Rossi and Laurel Champion

April 12th, 2018

California’s bed bug problem continues to be a force to be reckoned with. You may recall our article last year concerning the new legislative scheme codified at California Civil Code Section 1942.5, 1954.1 and 1954.600 et seq., which set forth in detail the extensive duties and procedures approved and mandated for landlords and tenants relating to bedbugs in residential dwellings. (See “Good Night, Sleep Tight – Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite.”)

While the legislation makes it clear that landlords are responsible in many ways to provide notice, treatment, and eradication of bed bugs for their tenants, California juries have now chimed in on the issue – and the consensus is that landlords who rent offending units deserve far more than a slap on the wrist.

Late last year, a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court held an apartment complex owner responsible when it returned a $3.5 million verdict in favor of 16 former and current residents of the complex who had complained about bed bugs between 2011 and 2013. Although the medical costs to treat the bed bug bites were only a few thousand dollars, the plaintiffs alleged significant emotional distress damages for anxiety, sleeplessness, and humiliation they endured attendant to the infestation. Individual awards ranged between $44,000 and $580,000.

Earlier this month, a jury in Alhambra, California, ordered the owner of an apartment complex to pay one family a total of $1,593,500 for the damage and suffering they endured due to a four-month bed bug infestation in their rental unit in 2012. The family, who had a three-year-old and an infant at the time, testified that they discovered the infestation when their three-year-old was diagnosed by a doctor as suffering from bed bug bites. The bites covered the toddler’s body, including his face, and the family’s infant was also bitten, the bugs biting her back as she slept. It took about four months of complaints, fumigation, and re-carpeting the unit to end the infestation. The family sued the owner on several theories, including breach of the warranty of habitability, emotional distress, negligence, and breach of contract.

These large verdicts should put landlords on notice – take your responsibilities regarding bed bug infestations seriously or risk getting badly bitten in court.