Spring means an increase in flowers, sunshine and bugs. When bugs and other pests make their way in to rental properties, it can cause conflict between tenants and landlords as to who is responsible for pest control.
Its a good idea to brush up on knowing how to handle a pest infestation this time of year, to enable you and your tenants to take action right away.
We prepared some of the most commonly asked questions for Avvo’s legal team. You can hear Esther’s answers in this video below.
Note: Avvo provides a flat fee service where you can search and consult with a lawyer for 15 minutes. It’s a nice option for complicated situations regarding pest control.
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Who is Financially Responsible?
Pest control isn’t cheap, so the issue of who is financially responsible can create some tension in both parties. It’s normally the responsibility of the landlord/owner to contract with a pest control service to maintain the structures, whether a multi-unit building or single family home. Pest control responsibility should always be included in the lease agreement.
We were lucky enough to get Avvo’s Chief Legal Officer to weigh in on this subject in this blog post.
A good landlord usually won’t want to leave seasonal pest control up to the tenant, as things may not get done to their satisfaction. Most services are performed by professional crews on a quarterly basis and that can usually keep everyone ahead of the more serious infestations.
When Landlords Pay
The implied warranty of habitability means that landlords must maintain livable conditions in a rental property. A pest infestation is one of those things that will jeopardize that condition. So for the most part, it’s up to the landlord to arrange and pay for pest control.
If the infestation is due to natural circumstances, the landlord is responsible for taking care of the problem. In other words, if the rental property is located near a grassy field and the tenant reports mice, the landlord needs to arrange for and pay for the exterminator. Other natural pest conditions might include termites, spiders, ants, rats, wasps, and sometimes cockroaches and bedbugs.
Most landlords make arrangements for seasonal maintenance and prevention, as well as the immediate pest control and pay for it on their own so the problem does not get any worse. However, just because a landlord makes all the arrangements doesn’t always mean that they foot the bill in every case.
When Tenants Pay
If a pest infestation can be linked to tenant behavior or actions, its then up to the tenant to bear the financial burden. Some pests, like ants or cockroaches, are attracted to areas that are unclean. If the tenant has trouble with taking out the garbage regularly or keeping food covered in the kitchen or pantry, it can attract the pests. Excess moisture from poor upkeep or non-reported leaks can also attract certain pests. A flea infestation may also be the result of a tenant’s pet, and would therefore be up to the tenant to foot the bill for treatments.
In these instances, the exterminator can help the landlord determine whether or not the tenant’s living conditions are attracting the pests. Poor housekeeping, moisture or infestation due to pets that are documented can mean that the financial responsibility of pest control can be passed to the tenant. Also, landlords who discover such living conditions or pet conditions may want to issue a comply or quit notice to ensure the tenant won’t be attracting more pests to the property again and again.
The Bedbug Dilemma
Bedbugs are on the rise across the country, and many places, like New Hampshire, are passing new laws to try to curb their growth. There may be different rules in place when it comes to a bedbug infestation than for other types of pests. It’s important for landlords to be up to speed on bedbug laws in their area, before they receive a panicked phone call from their tenants.
Bedbugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of, and they are easily transported from one place to another on clothes, luggage, skin and more. If a rental property is bedbug-free at turnover, and an infestation occurs, it is most likely the responsibility of the tenant to get rid of them. However, if the rental property has a history of bedbug infestations, it is most likely up to the landlord to take care of it, since the infestation may not have been completely effective.
It’s worth it for landlords to check up to see if their city or state has enacted any laws about bedbug infestations in rental properties and make sure to comply with those laws in the event of an infestation.
Pest Control Timeline
If a tenant contacts a landlord about a pest infestation, it’s important that the landlord act immediately and then sort out finances down the road. Failure to act on a pest infestation could mean legal trouble and the tenant might be within their right to withhold rent until the problem is fixed.
There’s no reason why landlords cannot respond with an exterminator appointment within a few days after notification from the tenant. In order to protect themselves from any conflict or legal action down the road, it’s important for landlords to document everything relating to the infestation, such as when the tenant first reported it, what action the landlord took, invoice and notes from the exterminator and any other interaction from the parties.
Many landlords address pest control in the lease agreement, especially when there are no state or municipal laws on the topic. One option is that the landlord agrees to turn over a pest-free unit to the tenant and do seasonal maintenance, and then any pest infestations are the responsibility of the tenant. Another option is for the landlord to arrange for regular preventative pest control services, usually 4 times per year, and the tenant is responsible for anything outside those scheduled visits.
No matter how pest control issues are worked out, it’s important for them to be discussed in detail prior to signing the lease so that both parties are clear on who is responsible for what.
What pest control responsibilities have you set up with your tenants? Please share this article and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.