Is the landlord responsible for getting rid of cockroaches and other pests from rental properties? The short answer is yes, at least in most cases. However, there can be misunderstandings and legal disputes to deal with on both sides. This article aims to bring you up to date on all. You’ll know your rights as a US tenant and the measures you can take to tackle infestations by the end of this page.
Most of us encounter a few creepy-crawlies in the home, especially during summer. But an infestation is different. It’s an unusually large invasion of insects (Insecta) or bugs (Hemiptera). Common household pests include termites, ants, bed bugs, and roaches. This piece focuses on the latter.
Why Roach Control Is Vital
A full-on cockroach invasion is a disturbing sight, but that’s not the only concern. These pests can be harmful to human health in several ways. That’s according to the EPA or US Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Roaches carry a type of bacteria that can cause salmonella, streptococcus, and staphylococcus if it gets onto food (EPA).
Roaches are also known to spread intestinal diseases, says WHO. The most common in the US are dysentery and diarrhea. Typhoid fever and cholera are two more though rare now in the US. You don’t want these filthy insects running amok around kitchens and inside cupboards where there’s food.
When the Tenant Is Responsible
Tenants should handle pest control if they caused the infestation by living behaviors. An example is an unclean home where a lack of hygiene is apparent. Roaches tend to nest in buildings where there’s easy access to a plentiful supply of food. Examples include open food containers, unwashed dishes, crumbs on floors, and dirty carpets, etc. Overflowing garbage bins is an outdoor attraction.
A landlord must prove the tenant is the cause of the problem to win the case. They need evidence of poor housekeeping standards and subpar hygiene more generally. The owner may also issue tenants with a written quit notice. If that happens, the occupant may also lose their security deposit.
When the Landlord Is Responsible
Landlords are responsible for maintaining inhabitable rental properties. A roach infestation not caused by the tenant jeopardizes acceptable livable conditions. Thus, the property owner must resolve the problem quickly as required by law. That includes arranging and paying for professional pest control if necessary. It’s then the responsibility of the tenant to help deter a future invasion by clean living.
But what if a stubborn landlord ignores the situation and refuses to take appropriate action?
Record all communication
Tenants should keep records of all communication between themselves and the landlord:
- Report the roach issues in writing and keep a copy of the original complaint
- Save any email responses from the landlord
- Retain records of all phone calls made to the landlord to discuss the issue
- Make copies of any photos taken to illustrate the problem to the property owner
- Request a formal report from the pest control company inspection if you used one
- Keep all communication in chronological order for quick, easy reference
A tenant can move out of a house or apartment before the lease ends if the landlord refuses to act. The law does not expect anyone to pay for—or live in—a residence with substandard conditions. State laws might vary by case, so always contact your local housing authority for free legal advice.
Avoid rash decisions
Tenants should contact their local housing authority if the landlord refuses to act. It’s never a good idea to withhold rent without permission to pay for a pest control service. That approach could see you evicted, or even sued. It’s in both party’s best interest to resolve the problem amicably and as soon as possible. Try to keep a cool head and come to a mutual agreement in the first instance.
When Nobody’s to Blame
There are times when a roach invasion is neither the fault of the property owner or the tenant. Cockroaches in the US—especially the German variety—prefer dirty, unsanitary conditions. However, clean homes can also experience roach infestations. Below are three of the less obvious causes:
- Location. E.g., places like Georgia, Florida, and Alabama are known as roach hotspots
- Bad weather or lack of food outdoors forces roaches to venture indoors
- Small exposed cracks, dryer vents, and other latent gaps offer entry points
A landlord should routinely inspect and maintain the property exterior at no cost to the tenant. Maintenance is the only way to ensure no new entry points develop in outside walls and vents. Tenants may choose to repair small areas and take extra DIY measures to deter the critters from entering. There are several effective preemptive actions to consider if your accommodation is vulnerable.
Landlord Vs. Tenant Disputes
There are occasions when both the landlord and the tenant shun their responsibilities. Disputes like this don’t serve either party, while in the meantime the problem goes unresolved. The legal system can intervene as a last resort if the cause of the roach invasion is clear. Landlords can avoid headaches and costly lawsuits by including pest control responsibility in the lease agreement.
As a renter, make sure you read the full terms of any lease before you sign anything. Often, lengthy disputes are the result of misunderstandings and ignorance, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
A little knowledge of US tenancy laws is a huge help in the case of disputes. All tenants should be aware of the Implied Warranty of Habitability written into residential leases. It’s a legal guarantee that says a rental property must meet specific safety and living standards prior to occupation. It also stipulates that landlords maintain those standards for the duration of the tenure.