You’re the landlord and you discover you have a few uninvited guests — pests. They could be bedbugs, roaches, fleas, ants, or rodents. You don't care what they are, you just want to get rid of them. What are you going to do?
The first thing to do is to call a landlord pest control company and get rid of them. Bugs and rodents are a health risk for your tenants. You don't want to incur the liability connected with sick tenants.
Next, you need to determine if one or more of your tenants should reimburse you. You shouldn’t have to ask who’s responsible for pest control. Your lease should state who has pest control responsibility under different circumstances..
This article covers who’s responsible for pest control — the landlord or the tenant. It discusses how leases and laws may determine the answer to the question. Finally, this article discusses some common pest issues.
The Lease Should Say Who Is Responsible for Pest Control
A good lease will say when the tenant handles pest control and when the landlord is responsible. The lease can’t contradict local laws to lessen the landlord’s responsibility. But, the lease can create more responsibility for the landlord than local laws require.
Usually, landlords handle seasonal pest control and preventive maintenance. Tenants are responsible if they cause the infestation. The lease should require the tenants to maintain their unit to discourage infestation. For example, the lease should require the tenant to keep their unit clean and prevent pets from causing a flea infestation.
The lease should require the tenant to report an infestation at the first sign so the landlord can react before it gets too bad.
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State and Local Law
State and local laws may have special provisions for landlord pest control. As a landlord, you need to be familiar with these laws. One of the most important laws for pest control in rental properties is the implied warranty of habitability.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
The implied warranty of habitability requires landlords to keep rental units fit for human habitation. It’s implied meaning it doesn’t have to be spelled out in the lease. Unfortunately, such a simple definition doesn’t explain what this term means. That’s because courts interpret the implied warranty of habitability differently among the various states.
Arkansas is the only state that doesn’t have an implied warranty of habitability. Some of the other 49 states interpret bug infestations as making the property not fit for human habitation, thereby violating the implied warranty of habitability.
Most states have no explicit determination of whether bug infestations violate their implied warranty of habitability. Often, whether a bug infestation violates the warranty will depend on the extent of the infestation.
If, as a landlord, you think the fact that the habitability warranty is a gray area means you don't have to worry about it, you couldn't be more wrong. Think of the implied warranty as a fallback for an angry tenant in areas without explicit laws regarding landlord responsibilities for pest control.
Landlords need to make sure buildings meet the local codes and the rental units are habitable. It’s a good idea for landlords to cover seasonal and preventive pest control for all units.
Landlords need to check on any bug infestation reported by a tenant. If there’s a problem, landlords can try DIY methods, but it’s probably best to call a landlord pest control company. Some state and local laws require professional pest control. Even if you believe the infestation is the tenant’s fault, it has to be dealt with immediately, so innocent tenants won’t be affected.
You can determine if the tenant owes money for pest control after the fact. It’s a good idea to look for signs the tenant caused the infestation when you first respond to a call. If the tenant is allowing garbage to pile up inside the unit or keeping it in a general unsanitary condition, take pictures. These pictures are evidence later when collecting from the tenant.
Landlords also need to ensure there are no ongoing leaky pipes on the premises. These pipes can attract pests. The common areas are the landlord’s responsibility. You must be keep these areas clean so as not to attract pests.
Tenants have the responsibility to keep their unit clean. That doesn’t mean it has to be spotless. It means landlords can’t tolerate uneaten food, piled up garbage, and unsanitary living if it’s attracting pests. This is one reason to perform annual inspections.
Tenants must use flea prevention on their pets. If the tenant is the only one that has pets and there is a sudden flea infestation in the building, you know who’s probably to blame. In such a case, pay for pest control, then recover the money from the tenant. This could be very expensive since the problem may spread across several units by the time the landlord pest control company arrives.
You may send the tenant a notice of violation of the lease if they continue activities that are attracting pests. You owe it to your other tenants to evict the offending tenant if necessary.
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Bed bugs are one of the worst problems to have. they're notoriously hard to get rid of. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains an extensive list of state bed bug laws. As a landlord, it’s a good idea to be familiar with these laws in your state.
Cockroaches and ants are other common insects that are attracted to food left out. If you’re using preventive pest control, this is often the tenant’s responsibility. But, they affect habitability, so landlords must fix the problems fast to prevent innocent tenants from being affected. The same advice goes for mice and rats.
So, you have a good lease that spells out who’s responsible for pest control. You know your local laws. You fulfill all your responsibilities as a landlord. When you do these things, you’ll keep pest issues to a minimum. You’ll also keep your liability to a minimum.
Is there anything else you can do to minimize your risks from pests? Yes. You can have a good landlord insurance policy that protects you from expensive repairs from leaking pipes and appliances. Such leaks attract pests.
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