In some areas, the rental market can be so competitive that renters are willing to overlook an apartment’s faults. Leaky faucets, outdated fixtures, and overgrown yards haven’t stopped people from signing a lease on the dotted line.
However, the ‘creepy crawlies,’ like bed bugs (remember 2016’s national outbreak) and roach infestations appear to be where people draw the line – and who can blame them? Pest issues can become contentious. It’s common for property managers to blame the tenant for keeping the unit in an untidy condition. Residents tend to blame the property owner, often citing pre-existing conditions.
Pointing fingers won’t get you anywhere, except perhaps embattled in a pricy lawsuit. Which begs the question—what is the responsibility of landlords and property managers when it comes to pest control at multifamily rental properties?
Answer: It depends.
In some instances, the renter may be held responsible if it can be determined that the actions of the resident caused the pest infestation, such as leaving food out that attracts mice or hoarding conditions.
Lease agreements may also, specify that the tenant is required to maintain both inside the unit and the outside premises (e.g., in the case of a single-family home), in which case the tenant may be expected to pay for routine pest control and maintenance.
Otherwise, the property owner or manager should be expected to deal with unwelcome critters. Most states have a ruled called the “implied warranty of habitability,” explains Janet Portman, an attorney, and co-author of Every Tenant’s Legal Guide. “This requires the landlord to offer and maintain pest-free rentals.”
If a landlord or property manager fails to address the problem, most state laws allow tenants to pay for pest control out of pocket and then deduct those costs from their rent. “In some states, you can also withhold your rent or treat the failure of the landlord as justification for breaking the lease and moving out without [paying] the rest of the rent,” suggests Portman. Renters have many legal rights―learn them, and how to protect them!
Aside from the legal obligations, landlords and property managers should also consider the following:
· Rental property is an investment. Dealing with pest, mold, or other infestations is vital to the long-term structural health of your property and therefore, your investment! Termites are particularly damaging and can wreak havoc on the roof, in walls, and on weight-bearing support beams. If termites are not dealt with proactively, they can destroy your property from the inside out.
· Pest infestations can disturb cash flow. Unhappy tenants will only stick around for so long and may withhold rent in the meantime. Pest control is a small upfront cost to keep tenants in place and reduce turnover.
· Compromise is key. If you believe the tenants are responsible for the infestation, consider splitting the cost of pest control. This is a way to acknowledge responsibility but require the tenants to accept ownership of the conditions as well. Furthermore, this serves as a reminder to tenants to keep the unit clean and tidy in order to avoid the costs of the cleanup in the future. A long those same lines, some owners cover the cost of exterior pest control but require tenants to pay for interior pest control.
Pest control disputes can be tricky because usually by the time they arise, there’s already a problem that needs to be dealt with and should be done so immediately. Save future headaches – and pricy lawsuits – by assigning pest control responsibility in terms of your lease agreement. When all else fails, err on the side of protecting your investment by protecting it from unwanted intruders. Dealing with the root causes of pest control is a small price to pay in the long run.