Tenant disputes extermination fee

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Life was good until the bedbugs began biting and the landlord levied a fee for killing them. The tenant contested, but says she could be homeless for taking a stand.

Legal aid lawyers say Virginia law is clear, landlords are responsibility for extermination. But, 'Colony Management Corporation' is going after the tenant for payment. This tenant gets help through a homeless prevention program.

Who brought the bedbugs is what the landlord must prove. Ezekia Afari's landlord blames her and added a $450 extermination charge, plus other fees, to her account because she opened her door to another tenant who was moving upstairs and stored his sofa in her apartment.

"I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I had no way to get out of my door if that sofa had stayed out there. I was calling myself being kind enough, helping this neighbor and helping management not to have a fire hazard out in the hallway," she said.

Colony Management Corporation writes: "by moving the sofa into her apartment she assumes responsibility...." It goes on to say, "Richmond Dairy did not bring the bedbugs into your apartment, and they're not responsible for your action."

"How is it that we're responsible for something that's already in a building? The building is infested," Ezekia said.

Ezekia shot video of exterminators hosing down after spraying other apartments just last Friday. She's contesting the extermination charge but fears, that after 10 years in a rent assistance program that got her off the streets, she may end up homeless again.

"I know I can't face that winter cold out there. I'm too old for that," Ezekia stated. "We can't even afford to pay our regular rent and to sock a $450 charge on us, that's ridiculous. That puts us back out into the homeless situation all over again."

Tenants have won similar cases says Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. Martin Wegbreit doesn't represent Afari; he believes she will win too.

"It's the landlord's responsibility to keep the premises in a fit and inhabitable condition and that means pest free," said Martin Wegbreit with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

Tenants can be made to pay for extermination, Wegbreit says, but under specific circumstances. "Landlords can do rent increases to deal with the problem and spread the cost fairly amongst everybody. What a landlord may not do is to single out a particular individual and say you're responsible, here's a bill for $500. Pay it or we'll evict you. That landlord cannot do."

A judge will decide this dispute. Wegbreit says tenants should include a note with their rent payment that their money is for rent and not the extermination charge, and keep a copy. Meantime, Colony Management Corporation says it's had residents with bedbugs but never an infestation. It says residents are not charged for normal pest control.

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