Updated June 2023
Your tenants don’t want to live in a home crawling with pests. And you certainly don’t want the value of your rental property to drop due to damage from invasive insects or rodents.
But when rodents, cockroaches, or other pests infest a rental, it’s not always immediately clear who is responsible for pest control: the landlord or the tenant.
Generally speaking, you as the landlord are responsible for keeping your property pest free through regular maintenance and seasonal pest control. But, if the actions of the tenant are attracting pests into the home, they could be the one liable for the cost.
Determining responsibility is often a point of contention, but in the meantime, landlords need to deal with pests immediately, to limit their impact and minimize potential damage.
Today, we’ll take a detailed look at how to deal with pests in rental properties, starting with what terms to include in the lease agreement to clearly define who is responsible in different situations.
We’ll also share the steps to take as either a landlord or tenant when you encounter pests and how to properly handle these types of disputes.
A Table Of Contents On Pest Control Responsibility
Are you dealing with a pest control issue? In this article, you’ll find sections dedicated to all the most important questions about dealing with pest control in rental properties.
- A Word Of Caution…
- Rental Property Pest Control And The Law
- Who Is Responsible For Pest Control In A Rental Property, Tenant Or Landlord?
- Steps To Take When A Tenant Reports Pests
- Rental Contracts And Pest Control
- When Tenants Should Pay For Pest Control
- Tenants: Here’s What To Do When You Find Pests
- Tenant Pest Control Rights
- Hiring Specialists To Keep Pests Away From Your Rental
- Do It Yourself Pest Control For Rentals
- Apartment Pest Control Legal Advice From AVVO
- Rental Property Pest Control FAQs
- Who Is Responsible For Bed Bugs Landlord Or Tenant?
- How Long Does A Landlord Have To Take Care Of Pests?
- Do I Need To Hire Pest Control Seasonally?
- Who Pays For An Exterminator In A Rental?
- Is The Landlord Responsible For Roaches?
- Can A Tenant Break Their Lease Because Of Roaches?
- Are Mice In Apartment A Landlord Responsibility?
- Are Landlords Responsible For Ants?
- What Are The Tenant’s Rights If An Apartment Has Roaches?
- How Long Should It Take A Landlord To Deal With A Rodent Problem?
- Are Landlords Responsible For Pest Control In California?
- Does A Tenant Have To Let The Landlord Spray For Pest Control?
- Be Prepared To Fight Pests
Before diving into the legal questions around who is responsible for pest control, it’s worth stating that landlords should have emergency funds available to deal with a pest crisis.
A serious infestation can put the health of tenants at risk. Landlords do not want to become morally or legally responsible for secondary issues caused by pests that were not dealt with in a timely manner.
Each state has legal deadlines by which landlords need to respond to a pest control problem. Therefore, landlords should be prepared to pay for these issues up front and keep all related documentation as proof of action.
When examining a pest issue, landlords may find that tenants are responsible due to their own actions–or inaction as the case may be. This evidence needs to be well documented so it can be used to make a case for passing financial responsibility to the tenant if you feel the tenant is at fault.
Sometimes a conversation with the tenant about the evidence is enough for them to take responsibility, but it may sometimes be necessary to settle a dispute in court. This can be a drawn out process, so landlords should pay for immediate pest control and then seek financial reimbursement later.
On the other hand, if you’re unresponsive to the pest issue in your rental, tenants may need to take action to deal with pests themselves, rather than wait for the problem to get out of control.
Tenants are also within their rights to withhold rent if you, as the landlord, do not deal with the issue in a timely manner.
While laws differ among states, a pest problem can be defined as “the presence of insects, rodents, vermin, or other pests in sufficient numbers to adversely affect the structure or health, safety, and welfare of the occupants” (Fairfax County).
Landlords are then responsible for delivering properties that are insect- and rodent-free, and maintaining properties free of pests. If pests are detected, they must be promptly exterminated by approved processes that don’t pose a risk to human health.
The length of time that a landlord has to respond depends on the type of pest infestation and the laws of the state. For example, in New York, landlords have 90 days to deal with non-hazardous pests, 30 days to address hazardous pests such as bed bugs, and just 21 days to deal with rodents or cockroaches.
Responsibility for pests can only be passed to the tenant if the landlord can prove the tenant’s actions have caused the infestation. This usually requires photographic documentation of the responsible behaviors—such as failure to maintain a reasonable level of cleanliness, improper food storage, or delaying reporting leaks or other necessary repairs—and a record of previous pest issues and surveys to demonstrate that the current pest issue is not ongoing or recurring.
The landlord is almost always responsible for the general pest control at a property. They must protect the property from common local pests and have the premises treated against pests as part of regular property maintenance.
Landlords should maintain a record of all previous pest infestations that have been detected at a property and all action they’ve taken, preventative or responsive, to deal with pests. This is necessary for landlords to demonstrate they’re meeting their legal responsibility.
Landlords are also assumed to be responsible for any new or sudden pest infestation when it occurs and should take action immediately, such as calling a pest control company, when an issue is reported.
If, during the course of evaluating and dealing with the pest issue, it becomes apparent that the actions of the tenant are responsible for the infestation, the landlord can then hold the tenant liable.
These conditions should be clearly outlined in the rental contract, which should state that the landlord is responsible for dealing with pest issues except in cases where the tenant has caused the problem through their own actions. The contract should then also state how the tenant will be held liable—for example, they will be billed for the extermination service contracted by the landlord.
In most cases, the landlord will still need to pay for pest control services upfront to meet their duty to deal with pests within a certain period of time, to handle small problems before they become big ones, and to protect the integrity and value of the property.
There are a few basic steps to take when a tenant reports a pest on your rental property.
Pest control responsibility should always be included in the lease. Usually, landlords include a pest control clause in their rental agreement and specify the potential issues around pest control. It should outline how a tenant is expected to deal with an issue if they are determined to be liable. See sample pest control clauses here.
As a landlord, you usually won’t want to leave seasonal pest control up to the tenant, as things may not get done to your satisfaction. Though the tenant has the right to live in the property, it is still your property. It is important to protect your investment by doing regular, thorough pest prevention treatments.
If you are working with a property manager or thinking about hiring a property management company, ask them about what types of pest control they include and how any pest issues would be handled.
If the landlord can document that the tenant is responsible for the infestation, they may be able to have the tenant pay for pest control. This can be done by setting up a rental inspection and giving the tenant proper notice beforehand. Take pictures of the environment that may be leading to the pest issues.
This documentation may be sufficient for a landlord to have a conversation with the tenant about their liability for pest-related expenses. If the tenant disputes their responsibility for the cost, it may be necessary to resolve the matter in the local court. If the tenant refuses to pay or change their behavior, it may be necessary to issue a comply or vacate letter to the tenant.
We’ve already highlighted that rental contracts should contain specific clauses that deal with pest control.
The agreement will usually state that pest control is the responsibility of the landlord, as this is the law in most states, but will contain clauses that highlight when the tenant is responsible. For example, it may state that the tenant is responsible if it can be demonstrated that they attracted the pests through, for example, not maintaining clean and hygienic spaces.
The contract may also state that the tenant is responsible for notifying the landlord of any pest issues within a timely manner. It may highlight the responsibility of tenants to inspect the property for pests to the best of their ability on a regular basis. It’s good practice to list the time that the landlord has to respond to the notification, which again will largely be dictated by local laws.
If the landlord plans to use chemical treatments to deal with pests, this should also be noted, suggesting that the tenant should allow the action with a minimum notice period and with the understanding that the chemicals will not be harmful to occupants and that the home will continue to be habitable.
Rental agreements should also detail the responsibility of the landlord to the tenant if the home becomes inhabitable, due to pests or extermination actions. For example, the landlord may support temporary housing for the tenant within specific stated limits.
If a pest infestation can be linked to tenant behavior, it’s 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 does not take out the garbage regularly or keeps food covered in the kitchen or pantry, it can attract pests.
Excess moisture from poor upkeep or unreported leaks can also attract certain pests.
A flea infestation may 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 the tenant’s living conditions are attracting the pests. Poor housekeeping, moisture, or infestation due to pets may mean that the financial responsibility of pest control can be passed to the tenant.
As a tenant, you have the right to expect your rental property to be free of pests when you move in and regular maintenance to deal with known seasonal pest issues, such as mice from an adjacent field.
If you discover pests in your home, it’s your right to request that your landlord deal with the issue in a timely manner. To ensure this, you can take the following steps.
- Report the problem to the landlord immediately and request that they let you know the appointment time for pest control.
- Clean up any trash, dirt, or other areas that could be contributing to the problem.
- Check the lease agreement for details about pest control management. Some leases say the responsibility falls on tenants after move-in; others say it’s always the landlord’s responsibility.
- Take action yourself if the landlord doesn’t get the pests under control, to ensure you aren’t living in hazardous conditions.
- Check state and local laws about pest control management to further understand your rights.
When a landlord fails to provide pest control that is not the result of a tenant’s action, a tenant then has the ability to:
In many states, tenants are able to withhold rent from their landlords whenever serious problems are not addressed in a timely manner. If you do not clear the pest problem, your tenants may be permitted to withhold rent until you remedy the issue.
In cases of serious infestations or in states where the laws are very strict, tenants may be able to move out immediately when an infestation is discovered.
If you work in one of these states, ensure you’re doing regular, seasonal preventative pest treatments at your properties. If the tenant moved out, you should document the process in great detail.
Tenants may be able to move into temporary housing and then deduct the cost from their next month’s rent until the problem is fixed. Again, the rules about this will depend on the state laws as well as the terms of the rental agreement.
If the problem isn’t solved in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant could go on to break the lease.
Preventative pest control should be done at least seasonally by landlords, but the exact amount of time spent on pest control is going to depend on the location, property, and type of housing.
There are a few things landlords should ensure you do regularly to prevent pests from being able to infiltrate your property.
Set up a service to come in every season and do pest prevention treatments. These treatments often include spraying around the exterior of the house, looking for signs of infestation, and treating the baseboards inside. Through this regular preventative care, you will be less likely to have pest problems.
Before any tenants move in, have a pest control specialist visit your property and point out any potential problem areas. This would include gaps where pests can get in, unsealed pipes, and more. The specialists will be able to advise you about additional prevention tactics that can help.
Be sure to do thorough inspections between tenants and during yearly rental inspections. If certain pests are a common problem in your area, you may even want to have a specialist do their own inspection each time you do a rental inspection.
Pest control is not cheap when hiring out an exterminator. That’s why many tenants will search for a DIY pest control solution.
We’ve found Do It Yourself Pest Control Supplies to be one of the most helpful services.
When you go to their homepage, you immediately see pictures of a variety of pests. You can click and choose the current pest you’re dealing with at your rental property.
Once you click any of those images, you’ll be taken to an educational page on that pest.
For example, when you click “Roach Control,” you’ll be taken to a page where you can choose the type of roach you are dealing with and various options to get rid of the roaches. The page includes this helpful video.
The combination of helpful video tutorials and available products makes Do It Yourself Pest Control Supplies a helpful resource for DIY pest control.
We asked our friends from the Avvo legal team to provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about pest control in rental properties. Below you’ll find video excerpts from Esther, the team’s General Counsel.
Note: We’ve made transcription notes beneath the video for quicker reference too.
Transcription Notes for renter pest control video
[1:10 – 3:00] How Does The Lease Play Into Pest Control And Who Is Responsible?
Landlords are responsible for pest control and keeping infestations away but there are situations where a tenant can have living behaviors that lead to an infestation and in those cases, a tenant can be responsible for taking care of pest control. Generally, the landlord is responsible, but if a landlord can prove the tenant caused the infestation the tenant would be responsible.
[3:01 – 3:50] Rental Lease: How To Word Pest Control
The lease should say that the landlord is delivering the unit in good condition and is responsible for pest control. Have a mention that any infestation due to the tenant’s doing than the tenant will be responsible.
[3:51 – 4:50] Document History Of Pest Issues
It’s important the landlord documents the history of pest issues. If the tenant is creating pest issues due to garbage and unhealthy living conditions the landlord should document this.
[4:51 – 6:55] Does It Matter What Type Of Vermin It Is? Termites Vs. Bed Bugs, Mice, And Rats Etc.
Generally, the type of infestation is what you’ll look at first. If it’s something that is common to the area or to that building then it will generally be the landlord’s responsibility. Bed bugs are on the rise and legislation depends on state and local laws. Typically the onus falls on the landlord here.
To learn more about how to deal with bed bugs in a rental, check out this video:
[6:56 – 7:47] Warranty Of Habitability
Termites can cause structural damage and landlords have an obligation to keep a warranty of habitability. There is legislation passed in California where it doesn’t list termites by name, but it’s still the landlord’s responsibility to take care of this due to issues of safety in the building.
[7:48 – 9:19] Can A Tenant Legally Withhold Rent Until Pest Control Issues Are Taken Care Of?
This depends. If the tenant has given written notice to the landlord of the infestation the landlord needs to take care of this. Each state has their own laws on how quickly a landlord responds and if tenants can withhold rent.
Sidenote: You can also subscribe to the “RentPrep for Landlords” Podcast using any of the links below.
Here are some frequently asked questions about apartment-related pest control.
Bed bugs 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.
Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of, and they’re easily transported from one place to another on clothes, luggage, skin, and more. If a rental property is bed bug-free at turnover and then an infestation occurs, it’s most likely the responsibility of the tenant to get rid of them.
However, if the rental property has a history of bed bug infestations, it’s 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 to see if their city or state has enacted any laws about bed bug infestations in rental properties and make sure to comply with those laws in the event of an infestation.
If a tenant contacts a landlord about a pest infestation, it’s important the landlord act immediately and then sort out finances later. 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 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 vital for landlords to document everything relating to the infestation, such as when the tenant first reported it, what action the landlord took, the 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 four times per year, and the tenant is responsible for anything outside of 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 both parties are clear on who is responsible for what.
As mentioned, it’s important to act quickly and exterminate any pests immediately. This means that landlords should pay for the extermination when it’s initially scheduled to ensure there are no delays while sorting out the finances.
When you pay for the extermination, make sure to keep all documentation. Ask the exterminator or pest control specialist to document any potential sources or causes of the infestation while they work, as this might help you determine who will ultimately foot the bill.
If the tenant has created conditions where pests can thrive that you have otherwise worked to prevent, they may be held responsible for the bill. If, however, the tenant has kept things clean and orderly, the bill is going to remain yours.
Laws relating to cockroaches in apartments are searched frequently because they’re one of the most common pests that renters deal with. The video above covers how to remove cockroaches but not what the laws are surrounding them. This will depend on your state and city laws. In California, the law is clear that prevention and removal of cockroaches is the responsibility of the landlord.
Yes, a tenant could break their lease with you if there are roaches and you do not handle them appropriately or quickly enough.
Living with pests like roaches is considered to be a health hazard, and that means roach issues must be dealt with immediately.
If a tenant approaches you with evidence that there are roaches at the property and you do not act to fix it within a reasonable amount of time, they could reasonably break their lease or withhold rent.
Even if you’re suspicious of the cause of the roaches, you must act to remedy it immediately, and then deal with the fallout later.
This will depend on the natural state of the apartment. If there are mice in the apartment, the landlord may be responsible if there is a history of infestation. If the apartment is located next to a grassy field, this may be a natural reason for mice in the apartment. If the tenant’s living conditions lead to mice in the apartment (e.g., garbage is not being taken out regularly), then the tenant could be liable. In all instances, each state and city will have different laws on who is responsible.
Similar to other pest infestations, landlords will be responsible based on state and local laws along with what the lease says. Ant infestations are often due to food being left out in the open. In these scenarios, the tenant would be responsible for ants in the rental property because it’s due to tenant neglect.
Ants are one of the easier pests to track and eradicate.
As it is largely a landlord’s responsibility to prevent and remedy bug issues, what can your tenants do if the apartment has roaches?
It’s important that you’re familiar with your tenant’s rights in this process. Not only can you keep communication open by talking through a roach infestation with your tenant clearly, but it can also help you to be more prepared.
According to the law in most states, landlords have 30 days to deal with a rodent problem once it is officially reported by a tenant. If you have a minor rodent infestation,it usually takes about three weeks to completely eradicate the menace.
A more severe rodent problem can take as much as three months to solve. In these rare cases, alternative accommodation for tenants is usually required.
The simple answer is yes, landlords are responsible for pest control in California. As of 2016, they must notify tenants that they are performing pest control if they are doing it themselves. It’s a good idea to read up on the Structural Pest Control Board PDF here.
Since landlords are responsible for pest control, tenants do need to allow them to take reasonable action to manage pests, which can include spraying.
But the landlord must also choose methods of controlling pests that do not cause harm to humans and which maintain a property that is actively being rented in a habitable condition. If tenants believe that the type and location of spraying violates these conditions, they can object.
Landlords should give their tenants plenty of notice of any pest control action and do their best to schedule it for a time that is most convenient for the tenant.
If spraying is intended to be part of regular pest control maintenance, it should be included in the rental agreement so both parties are aware and agree to the conditions of spraying.
Even the cleanest and most well-maintained properties can occasionally be hit by pest issues. This is one of the most frustrating problems for tenants, who want to live in clean and safe conditions, and a problem that should be dealt with by landlords immediately to meet their legal requirement to keep their property and tenant safe.
For these reasons, it’s necessary to take regular pest prevention measures through seasonal treatments and thorough treatments between lease agreements too.
Landlords should also have emergency funds on hand to deal with any unexpected pest issue that may occur. Even if it’s later decided that the tenant is at fault and should pay for the extermination service, this can take months to resolve and the pests need to be dealt with right away.
And make sure you include details about pest control in your rental agreement. Outline the responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant, the latter of which should include keeping the space clean and reporting pest issues in a timely manner.
The contract should also indicate how problems are to be resolved if the tenant is found liable.
In reality, most pest issues are not a question of tenant vs landlord—they are a team effort to deal with a problem that everyone would like to see resolved as quickly as possible.