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Houston Property Management Tips

September 2011:New Texas Smoke Alarm Law & Bedbugs

New Texas Law Regarding Smoke Alarms

A new law was passed this last legislative session regarding the number and placement of smoke alarms in rental properties in Texas. In short the law attempted to make the requirements consistent throughout the state. It requires at least one smoke alarm to be placed in each bedroom. In addition, if multiple bedrooms are served by the same hallway, there must be a smoke alarm in the hallway in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms; and if the unit has multiple levels, there must be a smoke alarm on each level. This law takes effect September 1, 2011 for rental homes for new tenancies and all rental properties must be checked and brought up to current code by January 1, 2013.

As a result of this we have made an arrangement with a very respectable vendor that we have used before. Beginning immediately, on every turnover, and all properties currently vacant, they will inspect the property for the right number and placement of the alarms, verify and smoke test all the alarms in the property and install any additional alarms required. The certification will cost $65 for the inspection and smoke test, plus $25 for each additional alarm required. As a general rule of thumb, most of the properties built in the last 15 years or so should not need additional alarms, as most of the jurisdictions those homes were built in had building codes very similar to this already in place. Most homes older than this have the alarms in the hallway but not necessarily in each bedroom.

Bedbugs, a Growing Problem

There is a common childhood saying, "don't let the bedbugs bite" and by the 1940's bedbugs had pretty much been eradicated in the United States. It may surprise you to learn that bedbugs returned a few years ago and we want to make you aware of the growing problem.

Why did bedbugs return? The main reasons are increased global travel, increased mobility in general, as well as changes in pesticide use, particularly the ban on the pesticide DDT. All this has allowed them to flourish when introduced.

What are bedbugs? Bedbugs are reddish brown, flattened, oval, and wingless pests. They are extremely hardy and feed on warm-blooded animals. Some experts feel that they can survive without feeding for nearly a year, which makes it even more difficult to treat them.

What is the big problem with bed bugs? Bed bugs do not feed on waste, but on the blood of a host. This is the primary reason bed bugs are so adaptable to transference. The size of the bed bug also makes it difficult to detect. Most sources indicate bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed and generally feed at dawn. They extract food through the blood of their host leaving behind welts and bumps. Those affected by the bites may not even be aware of the issue until long after the bedbug has resumed its hiding place in some of the smallest places in the home. They can cause skin rashes, allergic reactions, and psychological effects.

What makes them different from other pests? Filth does not attract bed bugs. They are insects of convenience like lice and fleas. These tiny insects crawl from one infected individual to another. They set up house near beds and in bedrooms, hiding in cracks and crevices during the day and creeping out at night to feed on the blood of their unsuspecting prey - humans. The size of an apple seed, bed bugs multiply quickly and are adept hitchhikers. You can get bed bugs by sitting in a seat just vacated by an infected person on a subway, park bench, taxi, or airplane. Since not all people react to bed bug bites, people often spread bed bugs without even knowing they have them.

What makes treating them so difficult? Since the banning of DDT, pest control professionals have not had many effective chemicals to kill bedbugs. In addition, they only feed only on blood and so baits or traps do not attract them. That makes finding and destroying the tiny bugs and their eggs meticulous, time-consuming work that typically requires a series of repeat visits.

What federal agencies are addressing bed bugs? This has become such a problem that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, has held two "Bed Bug Summits" in Washington, DC. One was help in April 2009 and the second in February 2011. During the recent summit, they introduced three initiatives:

  • Educating consumers on the importance of early recognition of bed bug infestations
  • Educating industry professionals to prevent treatment resistance
  • Progressing in the research and development of effective bed bug pesticides

On day two of the summit, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealed plans to promote a bed bug community outreach service that will focus on increasing awareness and educating everyone.

What is the liability for an investor? Because bed bugs can reside in any property, it can become a legal hassle between property owner and tenant, with finger pointing both ways. However, like any serious pest control issue, landlords can face damages for bedbugs under a claim of breach of the warranty of liability. Tenants are legally entitled to a "livable, safe, and sanitary" residence. Because it is hard to determine how bedbugs entered the property, it is difficult to say the tenant "caused the problem." This has caused many lawsuits.

What will we do if your property develops bedbugs? First, it is important to recognize this is a very serious issue and that it can happen. We hope that we will not be contacting you with this particular pest problem, but if this happens, work with us to eradicate the problem using a qualified pest control company and working with the tenant until solved.