A City Council committee on Tuesday approved a landlord-friendly amendment to a bill aimed at combating Philadelphia’s plague of bedbug infestations that critics say undermines the purpose of the legislation by requiring tenants to pay for half the cost of exterminations.
The amendment — which Councilman Mark Squilla added to his own bill after negotiating with landlords, administration officials, and tenant advocates — would require renters and landlords to split the cost of bedbug remediation if they have lived in their apartments for 90 days or more. If an infestation is discovered before that time, landlords would pay.
“If you put the onus of paying on the tenant, they may not report it,” said Mike Levy, an epidemiologist with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “If you’re not reporting it, it’s going to spread.”
Philadelphia has a higher rate of infestations than any other large U.S. city, and it is also the only one without clear rules on how to report bedbugs and who is responsible for exterminating them.
An exasperated Squilla, who championed the issue after he experienced an infestation in his South Philadelphia home, said Tuesday that he proposed the amendment in an attempt to satisfy all sides of the debate.
“We hit brick walls all the way, and finally we came up with legislation that has everybody upset,” Squilla said. “I think we need to start somewhere.”
The Committee on Licenses and Inspections approved the amendment and the bill, sending it to the full Council, where it can come up for final approval as soon as Thursday’s meeting. Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who chairs the committee, cast the lone “no” votes against the amendment and the bill.
Critics assailed the logic behind the amendment — that an infestation discovered within the first 90 days of a lease is the landlord’s responsibility, whereas one discovered later is partially the tenant’s fault — noting that it can take months or even years to discover bedbugs, and that it’s impossible to know where an infestation came from.
“Every major city except Philadelphia has a bedbug ordinance. None of them require the tenant, after a certain period of time, to pay," said George Gould, a senior attorney at Community Legal Services and a driving force behind the original legislation. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to continue to be the most infested bedbug city in the country."