Landlords, Tenants and Pest Control

Summer is quickly arriving throughout the country. We can all look forward to hot days, overgrown flower beds, drier grass, and also ants that go marching one by one into our homes. The issue of who is responsible for taking care of pests in the home is often a hot button topic in the renting world. While renters see the responsibility as belonging to the landlord, the landlord might also reason that the actions (or inactions) of the renter might conceivably lead to a pest problem that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

If this is an issue in your rental, you are not alone. Hundreds of battles are fought every year in every state over this exact issue. As a renter, it is helpful to know when you are covered and when it is unlikely as well as when you should or shouldn’t push the issue.

What is in your lease?

What is in your lease?

As a renter, most issues come back to what is specifically in your lease. Does it state anything about pest control or current pest issues? While landlords are legally required to disclose any information to the renter that might compromise health or safety, like lead paint or bedbugs, you should still be responsible for asking specific questions before you sign anything.

Even then, you are less likely to hear about the more minor issues, like the mass migration of spiders into the basement each fall or the local ant colony that you will wage war against for the contents of your pantry all summer. In cases like this, it can be helpful to go ask your potential neighbors if they have noticed anything. If there is nothing specific in your lease about pest control, put it on your list of negotiations.

What type of pests are you dealing with?

The level of pest control you are requesting can also make a difference when you approach your landlord. For instance, my rental is relatively close to a lake, and is a prime location for wasps that build their nests in every nook and cranny.

When my two-year-old daughter upset a nest in the yard and got stung eight times, I took it upon myself to call a pest control company to come and treat my yard. Because it was outside pests, I didn’t expect that it was the responsibility of my landlords to handle it. Similarly, ants in the kitchen and the occasional mouse in the garage can probably be handled with proper care and traps.

When should you involve your landlord?

When should you involve your landlord?

Large infestations, pests that pose a threat to the health and safety of those in the house and pests that you cannot reasonably control with basic measures, should be discussed with your landlord. An acquaintance of mine moved into seemingly clean and well-kept rental home and began the process of unpacking. Within a few days, she found that the property was overrun by cockroaches that had established their own tenancy from the previous renters.

Controlling the problem required keeping everything in plastic totes, including dishes, food and clothing and removing furniture to storage until the problem could be dealt with. In this case, the landlord, who was initially unaware of the issue, was more than willing to handle the extermination and returned some of their rent money for the considerable hassle they had to go through.

Snakes, rats, multiple mice, fire ants, cockroaches, bats, bed bugs and venomous insects are all examples of pest problems that you can reasonably approach your landlord about. Keep in mind that your case will be stronger if you can provide assurance that you have taken reasonable measures to keep your home from being an ideal nesting place.

What is my landlord responsible for?

While the specific rules and regulations are going to vary somewhat depending on the state, all detail a responsibility for landlords to provide acceptable living condition for their tenants. While technically, the pest problem must pose a health or safety risk in order for landlords to pay for pest control costs, you can also request measures that exacerbate the problem, like adequate seals on the doors and windows or proper care of cracks in the walls or foundation.

In every case, the process should begin with a reasonable conversation. Document the problem as much as you can and present it to your landlord for review. In many cases, they will be anxious to work with you in order to handle the problem. In situations where your landlord is dismissive or difficult to work with, you will need to employ stronger measures. Many states have a law that allows tenants to deduct the cost of a significant problem, including pest control, from their monthly rent if the landlord is negligent.

Keep in mind, however, that if your landlord argues that the problem doesn’t meet the legal criteria, you may ultimately need to hire legal representation. A safe and healthy living space is important and only you can decide if a situation is worth fighting for, but remember to pick your battles wisely. You may end up paying more in court costs than you would for handling the problem yourself, not to mention damaging the relationship with your landlord, which could lead to other issues.