February 10. 2013 10:52PM

Bedbug bill requiring landlord action a priority for Manchester aldermen

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER - The Legislature is considering a bill aimed at stamping out bedbugs, one of several pieces of legislation being looked at by lawmakers that is a priority for the city's aldermen.

The bedbug bill, HB 482, is sponsored by Alderman Pat Long, who is also a state representative. Long, a member of the city task force on bedbugs, has long been involved in the issue, which has been a problem at numerous properties in the downtown area, as well as at some hotels.

Long testified before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. He said the bill was well-received.

"What was amazing was everybody was on the same page, the tenants association, the landlords association," he said. "They realize the dire need to address the situation."

The bill would require landlords to both "investigate a tenant's report of an infestation of insects, including bedbugs, or rodents" within seven days of receiving notice from a tenant or housing code authority, and to take "reasonable measures to remediate an infestation."

The bill further states that the landlord "shall bear the reasonable costs of remediation of an infestation of bedbugs, but may recover those costs if the tenant is responsible for the infestation."

The bill was one of several aldermen discussed last Tuesday, and the bedbug bill was the only one that prompted some reservations.

Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur said, "I'm going to abstain because I haven't read the whole thing. It's kind of like lead paint. People could already have high levels in their blood. This is pretty scary stuff."

Speaking at Tuesday's meeting, Long insisted that the bill would impose obligations on both landlords and tenants, who would be responsible for informing building owners of bedbug problems and following written instructions to remedy the problem. "This evenly puts the onus on both of them," he said.

Levasseur was joined by two aldermen, Garth Corriveau and Tom Katsiantonis, in abstaining on the vote to endorse the legislation. The rest of the aldermen voted to support the bill.

Other bills

In addition to the bedbug bill, the aldermen voted to takes positions on several bills under consideration this legislative session.

House Bill 176 and Senate Bills 36, 43, 80 would alter laws regarding property tax exemptions. The aldermen supported the blanket opposition recommended by assessing board Chairman Robert Gagne, primarily on the grounds that they would weaken local control.

Senate Bill 128 would allow municipalities to retain a greater share of the fees they collect for vital records. The aldermen are strongly backing the bill, as they did last year on similar legislation. Manchester issues 20,000 records a year, more than any other community.

Lake Massabesic

The aldermen voted to back Senate Bill 58, which would enable municipalities to enter voluntary payment agreements for watershed land they own in neighboring towns, rather than pay the full tax value for the properties.

It's an important issue for Manchester Water Works, which owns 7,500 acres of land along its Lake Massabesic reservoir in Auburn, as well as in the towns of Candia, Chester and Hooksett.

The city's annual tax bill to Auburn alone is approaching $1 million, which has prompted the Water Works to take legal steps to dispose of the land to a conservation nonprofit.

Water Works Director David Paris, who testified in Concord on SB 58 on Wednesday, told the aldermen that the bill could allow the utility to make the case that lake shore land is unfairly assessed. "Assessments speak to feature value," he said. "This shoreline on Lake Massabesic doesn't offer the feature value that's the intent of (this valuation). The bill could affect the assessed value significantly."

Paris added that the Water Works would pursue placing the land into a conservation easement and the legislation "on two fronts."

The bill received a favorable report from the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee on Wednesday.