Pest control is an important part of property maintenance. Pests can damage your property and can cause unsanitary conditions which threaten the health of your tenants. The big question is who should be responsible for the cost of pest control during tenancy.
According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, California Tenants, A Guide To Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities, Revised July 2012,
” before renting a rental unit to a tenant, a landlord must make the unit fit to live in, or habitable. Additionally, while the unit is being rented, the landlord must repair problems that make the rental unit unfit to live in, or uninhabitable.”
Given the following definition from the same source,
“A dwelling also may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it substantially lacks any of the following:…Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances (for example, a garden or a detached garage), free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.”
It is clear that providing the home in a pest free condition is the responsibility of the landlord. We recommend taking steps to clearly resolve any pest issues reported in the first 30 days of a tenancy in order to establish that the landlord has fulfilled their duty to provide a habitable unit and to provide a clear and documented baseline to limit future expense and liability.
But what if the tenant has lived in the home for 6 months over which time the pest problem has developed? And what kinds of critters are covered by the term vermin? We can begin the debate knowing that the landlord is not responsible under the implied warranty of habitability for repairing damages that were caused by the tenant or the tenant’s family, guests, or pets.
The issue is that the landlord has to be able to show with some reasonable clarity that the tenant, their family, guests or pets are a cause or major contributing factor with regards to the pest problem. In a multi-unit building including a duplex that has shared walls that source of pest infestation is very difficult to prove. In single family residences the circumstances are generally clearer. The landlord must solve the problem and then hold the tenant financially responsible. The landlord may also evict if a tenant fails to correct conditions which they created.
Rodents – are almost always Owner responsibility. Curing a rodent issue almost always involves entry of the critters from the environment. Minor handyman work on the property including trimming trees a minimum of 6 feet away from the roof or sides of the structure, installing vent screens caulking and blocking small holes and gaps in siding, Installing door sweeps etc. is generally involved. Basic home maintenance is generally the responsibility of the property owner and the property owner has the most to gain from maintaining the home in good condition and prevention of damage that can be done to insulation and wiring that can occur if an infestation is left unchecked.
Roaches – can carry disease and are an indicator of filth. The landlord has a duty to cure the situation, but the tenant has an obligation to maintain the home in such a way that they are not causing or contributing to the problem. If a landlord can show that there was not a problem before the tenancy and that the tenant was contributing to the issue through their lifestyle and habits then the cost can fall to the tenant. The key to holding a tenant responsible for pest remediation is thorough documentation.
Spiders and Ants – like dust, they are in the environment they come into the house. Their presence is generally not CAUSED by lack of maintenance on the part of either the landlord or the tenant. We encourage tenants to deal with ants and spiders in the manner most suited to their tolerance and lifestyle after the first 30 days of tenancy.
Lice and Bedbugs – are carried into a unit by tenants or guests in clothing luggage or furniture. Bedbugs do not just wander in from the environment. Financial responsible depends entirely on the length of time that the tenant has been in the unit. Because bedbug issues can be difficult to cure and because they can survive in a vacant unit for a very long time It is in the landlords best interest to assist in getting rid of the problem once reported.
Termites– Are always owner responsibility.
Fleas – Did the tenant have pets? If yes then they are responsible for the fleas.
Bees – Tenants don’t cause bees and bees can cause a great deal of property damage as well as possible harm to the tenant. This one is on the owner.
Earwigs, moths, beetles, pill bugs and other insects that do not cause harm to people (other than emotional) are left for the tenant to deal with in their preferred manner.
As a landlord your first line of defense is a clearly stated pest policy followed closely by thorough documentation. At Real Property Management Sac-Metro we guarantee a tenant that they will move into a pest free environment. We establish this by encouraging our owners to handle any pest issues during vacancy. If pests of any kind are reported by the tenant in the first 30 days we have the issue professionally addressed. We also notify the tenants that maintaining their unit in PEST FREE condition is their responsibility.
If a pest problem is reported during tenancy it is in the property owner’s best interest to assist the tenant to resolve the problem in order to prevent the problem from getting bigger and more expensive to resolve. With proper documentation and an established policy, costs may be recovered from the tenant, their family, guests or pets are identified as the source or strong contributing factor to the problem.
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