Landlords could be fined for health nuisances 

Bedbugs beware — the Department of Public Health may soon have sharper teeth.

For years, the department has been inspecting living spaces for health hazards such as insects, mold and trash. These “threats” to public safety and health are known legally as nuisances, and can get a landlord in serious trouble through criminal and civil proceedings.

But legal proceedings take time and help from the City Attorney’s Office. However, allowing local health officials to levy fines could spur landlords into action quicker, said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, The City’s director of environmental health.

The department would be able to fine owners up to $1,000 a day for such infractions under legislation introduced Tuesday by Supervisor John Avalos.

The changes to the health code would not only allow the department to levy fines, but it would help The City communicate better with landlords. There has never been a requirement for the owners of buildings such as residential motels to leave contact information for the health department. The new law would change that.

“Many property owners don’t live in San Francisco and it’s difficult to get a hold of them,” Bhatia said. “This isn’t something that’s bad for them. They don’t want to wait for a month to hear about a problem.”

Another problem that has plagued residents of hotels is also targeted in the new regulations. Many owners keep trash cans in hallways where people live, leading to noisy collection and smelly hallways. The proposed legislation would require landlords to keep trash bins on the ground floor of the property.

Tenants who experience problems such as chronic bedbug infestations can file a complaint with the Department of Public Health if the landlord hasn’t taken care of the problem, Bhatia said.

Inspectors then look at the problem and see if it needs to be taken care of. If a landlord continues to ignore the problem, it is considered a nuisance.

“We’re adding some new enforcement tools,” Bhatia said. “That’s what’s really significant here.”

Avalos’ legislation is expected to be heard next month at the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee.

How bedbugs bug us

Ways dwellings become infested:

- Bugs, eggs enter dwellings on clothes and in luggage
- From already-infested items
- From nearby dwellings
- From pets and wild animals, such as bats and birds

Source: North Carolina State University report

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