Bed bugs have become a growing area of concern for planned communities across the country. Although no community is immune, bed bugs are most commonly found in single-family homes, condominiums, and hotels/motels. Because of their ability to travel from location to location, bed bugs can easily spread and infest multiple areas. This makes condominiums, townhomes, and single-family residences the perfect target for these tiny pests.
You may be wondering how and why bed bugs are of importance to homeowners associations. I will be the first to admit that Board members and managers rarely seek advice regarding pest prevention. After all, if it is “out of sight,” then it is also “out of mind.” However, that is the exact problem with bed bugs – because they are out of sight, they are also out of mind.
A recent report by the National Pest Management Association revealed that almost all (97 percent) pest professionals have treated bed bugs in the past year. A common misconception is that bed bugs relate to a person’s cleanliness. This misconception could not be further from the truth. While clutter creates an environment that makes hiding easier, most bed bugs make their way into an association through luggage, whether by a traveling member or a temporary guest. People tend to travel more during the warmer months, so it is no surprise that more than half of all bed bug complaints are submitted during the summer.
What duty, then, does a community association owe to its members to treat and prevent these pests from becoming a nightmare? The answer depends on many factors, the most important being the type of community.
Under North Carolina’s Planned Community Act, unless the Declaration states otherwise, the association is responsible for maintaining and repairing the common areas of the association, while lot owners are responsible for the same with respect to their individual lots. Although bed bugs are usually found inside of a residence, they can also be found in other places. Examples of such places include nursing homes, schools and daycare centers, offices, college dorms, hospitals, and on public transportation. This means that members are potentially exposed to bed bugs daily and may unknowingly transport them. Thus, associations with pool houses, bathrooms, and other similar structures should be aware of the possibility that bed bugs could unpack and cause problems in the common areas. If this happens, associations should be prepared to take action to treat the bed bug infestation.
Under North Carolina’s Condominium Act, unless the Declaration states otherwise, the association is responsible for maintaining and repairing the common areas of the association, while unit owners are responsible for the same with respect to their individual units. What is considered “common area” will vary between associations depending on the definition in the Declaration. Thus, whether a condominium association will bear responsibility for treating bed bugs will largely depend on where the bed bugs are located and who owns the portion of the condominium that is infested. Condominiums face a greater risk of infestation because of their close capacity to other units. Bed bugs can easily travel from one unit to the next, making it likely that multiple units will become infected. Thus, condominium associations should be aware of the possibility that if one unit is infested, other units are probably infected as well.
Depending on the circumstances, homeowners and condominium associations may want to consider adopting bed bug guidelines for common areas. These guidelines should include the procedure for reporting bed bug infestations. Associations should also consider educating unit and lot owners on how to identify bed bugs, as well as providing information on the treatment of bed bugs. The ultimate goal of the guidelines is to work proactively in addressing bed bug reports and concerns.
As to any specific situation with your association, circumstances matter and different facts can lead to different results. For questions or assistance with creating a pest prevention policy for your association, contact one of the community association attorneys at Black, Slaughter & Black in our Greensboro, Charlotte, Triangle, or Coastal offices.