Pests and the Warranty of Habitability

A resident consistently fails to clean her unit, leading to pests and potential health hazards. I’ve reached out to her a few times, but the situation hasn’t improved. What are my rights/responsibilities?

This is a difficult circumstance because the resident’s inaction is causing harm to the rental housing as well as to the apartment community.  While sound housekeeping may be lacking with many in our population, housing providers run into problems when someone’s lack of cleanliness leads to pest infestation and other related issues.  For starters, the “warranty of habitability,” which, loosely defined, is a list of state mandated standards that all rental housing must adhere to, is always your responsibility to uphold.  Housing is habitable when operators satisfy the following requirements at all times during the tenancy:

  • Roof, walls, doors, and windows need to be in a good and operable condition so as to create waterproofing and weatherproofing.
  • Plumbing, gas fixtures, electrical lighting, sewage disposal systems, and heating units must function properly and comply with the local housing and building codes.
  • The property must be free of debris, garbage, and pests.
  • Waste, recycling, and composting must be made available to the occupants.
  • Floors, stairs, and hand railings must be maintained in a safe and operable condition.
  • Residents must have private access to a locking mailbox.

Other state and local laws contain additional requirements for housing providers, but this basic list outlines the threshold requirements for landlords.  As noted above, pest control is compulsory.  Yes, there are instances where the resident’s lack of cleanliness invites a pest infestation, but this author believes that the housing provider is obligated to pay for and perform needed pest control services regardless of how the problem arose.  Indeed, bed bugs, for example, arguably almost always come into the building because the tenant was traveling and picked up these critters at a hotel or on the airplane.  Regardless of the cause, you, as the landlord, must pay for a licensed pest control operator to correct the problem.  The same analysis applies here where deficient housekeeping is the root of the infestation.  Allowing this rental and potentially neighboring units to fall outside the warranty of habitability is not an option, regardless of the cost.

That said, if this resident repeatedly creates an environment that invites the problem, you might, after diligent warnings in writing, have the remedy to recoup remediation costs in a court action and, if the problem is especially severe and unending, you could also seek to terminate the tenancy for nuisance.  Yet please understand that the underlying goal must be to compel and convince this resident to clean up their act, meaning any court action should be initiated with the intention of encouraging proper housekeeping, not evicting the person unless there is an absence of future cooperation.  So, in sum, you are responsible both financially and administratively for adhering to the warranty of habitability at all times, but sound legal counsel may help guide the way to a more productive relationship down the road or, if that effort fails, removing the offender from the building.

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