Buyer Beware: Sellers Don’t Always Tell About Bed Bugs

If you’re buying a house or looking for a new apartment or condo, take to heart the old adage “Buyer Beware.” You may be moving into new digs that have been invaded by bed bugs. According to a recent article in the New York Times (click here to read the full article), the New York state Property Condition Disclosure Act requires home sellers to provide buyers with an accurate statement disclosing the property’s condition, including pest infestations. (Similar laws are in effect in most states.) But there’s a loophole.

Under New York’s disclosure act, the seller must complete a 48-question disclosure statement about his property. Only one question asks about pest problems; and it doesn’t specifically ask about bed bugs, just “pest infestations.” Here’s the loophole: Sellers can choose not to fill out the disclosure statement and pay the penalty, a $500 credit to the buyer. Many sellers figure that’s a cheap price for making the sale when there’s been a bed bug problem.

An even greater problem for buyers looking for new digs in the Big Apple is that the law does not apply to co-op and condo owners. Common law is on the side of the seller. The Times quotes real estate attorney Edward Sumber of White Plains:

“Under the doctrine of caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — the seller has
no affirmative obligation to reveal circumstances about the apartment to the
buyer.”

However, the seller does have to answer honestly if specifically asked whether the apartment has had bed bugs. Additionally, real estate brokers are obligated to reveal a bed bug problem to the buyer if they know about it. Unfortunately, sellers are not required to tell their real estate brokers about bed bug problems. Essentially, that means buyers must rely on the integrity of landlords and sellers anxious to make a sale. This could definitely create a buyer beware scenario if any of the parties are less than honest.

If you’re shopping for a new home, apartment or condominium, you might want to consider hiring a pest control company with an expertise in bed bug elimination to inspect the property before you sign on the dotted line.