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Mitchell v. Capitol Management Group

A-5068-08T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION; LANDLORD’S LIABILITY — Just because bed bugs are found in an apartment, doesn’t mean that the landlord’s management company is liable absent actual constructive notice of any bed bug infestation.

A tenant entered into a one year lease agreement for the rental of a one-bedroom apartment at an 800 apartment complex. Five months after moving in, she complained of bed bugs to the owner’s management office. The office ordered extermination to take place that week.

Because of the infestation, the tenant discarded her furniture and clothing. She allegedly sustained physical and psychological injuries because of bug bites. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She never returned to the apartment, formally vacating the apartment one month after reporting the bugs. She sued the management company for personal injuries.

The tenant called the municipal health inspector as a witness at her trial. However, the inspector merely acknowledged a complaint was made to his office by the tenant’s friend. He did not physically inspect the location and did not testify as an expert. He did not offer any opinion as to the origin of the infestation, the migration of the bed bugs or any of their habits. The tenant testified that she had spoken to her neighbor occupying the unit directly below her own apartment. That tenant indicated that she had had a bed bug problem several years earlier and that it had been addressed by the management company. Other than this incident, there was no other specific evidence of bed bug infestation in the apartment complex.

After the tenant put on her case, the lower court granted the management company’s motion for a directed verdict. The Court held that the tenant failed to show the company had caused, or was on notice of, any bed bug infestation. Further, there was no testimony as to where the bed bugs had come from. The tenant appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, saying that no liability could be found merely because bed bugs were found in the apartment. No evidence was submitted proving the management company had actual or constructive notice of any ongoing bed bug infestation. The only reference was to an infestation two-years earlier. The Court concluded that the management company did not breach its duty of reasonable care to the tenant, as no expert testimony was presented that could have explained the origin of the bed bug infestation. The bugs could have come in through the window or been brought in with a piece of furniture.

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