If a new tenant asks about a bed bug problem, what is the leasing agent’s duty to disclose such a problem?

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If a new tenant asks about a bed bug problem, what is the leasing agent’s duty to disclose such a problem?

I’m a leasing consultant for an apartment complex that is fighting the bed bug epidemic. Now the corporate office has decided to have an open house to fill in the vacant units from tenants who moved out because of not getting treatment for bed bugs soon enough. I’m concerned on how to handle the question if we have or have had such a problem. Do I tell the truth or say what I’m told to say?

Asked on January 22, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Michigan

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Say what you've been told if you're interested in being held liable for the losses tenant's will suffer by renting infested apartments. If you had no knowledge of the problem, of course, then you would just go by what you've been told; however, having knowledge of a material consideration, if you misrepresent (lie) about it in response to any inquiries or questions, you will likely be guilty of fraud; and it's possible that in this situation, you'd be considered to have an affirmative duty to disclose the problem.

Nothing says you can't nuance--honestly--your response; e.g. assuming the following has happened, you could say "Like many buildings, including some of the most expensive real estate in NYC, there were some bedbugs. However, since then the building has been thoroughly treated for bed bugs, so it's actually one of the comparatively few buildings that you can be sure are bed bug free, since exterminators have just been all through it."


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