Can I Break My Lease Because of Roaches?

Rose Morrison

Oct 11, 2022

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You do a walk-through of the new apartment you rented and notice dead critters in the kitchen. To make matters worse, you wake up the first night in your new home, flick on the lights and break up an insect party. Your new abode has some unwanted guests — cockroaches. 

There are many ways to get rid of insects. However, some problems prove too insidious to treat individually, and not all landlords respond well to reasonable maintenance requests. Can you break your lease because of roaches? Here’s the 411 you need to protect your rights. 

Who Makes the Rules on Landlord-Tenant Responsibilities?

One issue with residential landlord-tenant law is that each of the 50 states has a separate set of rules governing matters like disputes and basic safety requirements. For example, while you won’t see central air conditioning as a habitability factor in states like Pennsylvania, it’s a required utility to provide in Arizona. This can be confusing when doing initial research.

Fortunately, many states have similar rules regarding your landlord’s duty to repair and maintain the property — including keeping it free from insect pests. For severe infestations, your property owner may retain the right to enter your unit without permission to treat the issue. 

You do have legal reasons for breaking a lease agreement. For example, if you are active-duty military and need to deploy, your landlord must let you break your agreement in all 50 states. Many states also cover domestic violence — if you fear your safety, you can break your lease and move to an undisclosed location. 

Does this apply to roach infestations? Possibly, if it’s a severe enough issue. The clause you may be able to fall back upon in roach situations is the implied warranty of habitability —  your pad must be fit for human habitation. This suitability includes reasonable freedom from insect pests. While you can’t avoid the occasional critter crawling in, your landlord must address infestations. 

The problem arises when you and your landlord disagree on what constitutes an infestation. That’s where you have to get wise and whip out your pen and planner or note-taking app. 

How to Break Your Lease Because of Roaches  

The first thing to do when you want to break your lease because of roaches is to document, document, document. Write down the dates and approximate times that you see insects — you might have scores of entries. Take pictures with your smartphone to further substantiate your claim. 

Then, talk to your landlord. Yes, you have legal rights, but do you have the time, money and energy for an unnecessary court battle? Don’t start from an adversarial standpoint — say, “I have a roach problem. Can we discuss how to resolve this issue?” 

Even if you and your landlord don’t have the best relationship, it’s in everyone’s financial interest to resolve this between the two of you. If they agree to hire a professional exterminator, congratulations. You don’t have to go through the hassle of switching leases or taking legal action. However, if they prove obstinate, you need to assert your legal rights. 

Start by making a written request for remediation. Send your letter via certified mail and include copies of your documentation, including photographs. Then, wait the appropriate time for their response — check your lease or contact your local legal aid society to ask what the requirement is in your jurisdiction. In many places, you must give them 30 days to address the issue. 

If your landlord still proves unresponsive, begin your legal action by talking to your local health department. They can inspect your apartment for habitability — a crucial piece of evidence for your court case. Find an attorney or contact legal aid if you are indigent. There’s no guarantee of help with the latter, but you may find assistance filing court documents. 

Illegal Moves to Avoid 

Keep in mind that packing your bags and fleeing your infested home in the middle of the night can have legal and pragmatic consequences: 

  • You could incur fees: Most leases provide provisions including hefty fees for early lease termination. You may need to pay all or a portion of the remaining rent. 
  • You could get sued: A lease is a legally binding contract, and your landlord could sue you for breach. 
  • You could hurt your credit score: Illegally breaking a lease counts as an eviction in some jurisdictions, which could hurt your credit score. 
  • You could struggle to find a new rental: Landlords rely on word-of-mouth and references. Your new landlord will probably check with your previous one, and a broken lease is a significant red flag. 

It’s a frustrating situation, for if this turns into a legal battle, it could be a time-consuming endeavor. Fortunately, most small claims courts are structured to resolve issues quickly and often with minimal need for lawyer involvement. Protect yourself and your health as best you can, and use the evidence you’ve collected to prove your position and potentially reclaim your losses.

Can You Break Your Lease Because of Roaches? Yes, in Some Circumstances

The good news is, you don’t have to live in an infested apartment. You can break your lease because of roaches, but ensure you follow the correct channels to avoid future hassles and money loss. Doing your due diligence early on will make the whole process easier, as well as aiming for a communication-based solution before legal action.

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