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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.
Legal Reasons for Breaking a Lease
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.
How Long Does a Landlord Have to Get Rid of Roaches?
If your landlord is seen as responsible for the roaches, there is no time limit on how long they may take to rid of the infestation. Like breaking your lease, this can vary by state. Check out your state’s laws and regulations before talking with your landlord. Some landlords may disagree on what counts as a roach infestation. This is where you have to be strategic about gathering evidence.
How to Break Your Lease Because of Roaches
When you have a roach problem, the first thing to do 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. Also, take screenshots or keep all messages between you and your landlord.
After documenting, talk to your landlord and see if you can resolve the issue between yourselves. Even if you and your landlord don’t have the best relationship, it’s in everyone’s financial interest to resolve this between you. It’s also a legal requirement to notify your landlord before you break the lease or take the issue to court.
A good way to communicate the issue is to say, “I have a roach problem. Can we discuss how to resolve this issue?”
What Happens If They Agree to Fix The Issue?
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.
Your landlord’s responsibility at this point is to call professional pest control services and go through the next steps with you. Legally, they must give you a day’s notice before pest control enters your unit.
You may be asked to prepare your apartment for treatment. This involves temporarily moving some of your belongings and mopping the floors to create a clean surface for the treatment chemicals to bind to. You will also need to put away all utensils, food items and personal hygiene items.
The pest control service will treat the apartment using mists or gels around kickboards and skirtings. Afterward, they will give you instructions for post-treatment.
Bear in mind that roach infestation issues take a few weeks to resolve. It might take time for visible cockroaches to carry chemicals back to the nest, so don’t be alarmed when you see them scrambling around– they are merely fleeing from your new home.
If the problem persists after a month or two, you may need to take the issue up again. If not, it has worked and you can live worry-free.
After the treatment, your landlord is also responsible for regular maintenance to prevent a reoccurring issue. This includes sealing cracks or gaps, fixing areas that attract pests and regular pest control inspections. Insist on this after the treatment and agree on appropriate times for inspections.
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:
- Early lease termination 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.
- A lawsuit: A lease is a legally binding contract and your landlord could sue you for breach.
- Unfavorable credit score: Illegally breaking a lease is an eviction in some jurisdictions, which affects your credit score.
- New rental issues: Landlords rely on word-of-mouth and references. Your new landlord will probably check with your previous one and a broken lease is a cause for concern.
Although this may be a time-consuming endeavor, most small claims courts are structured to resolve issues quickly, often with minimal 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.
What Happens If Your Landlord Doesn’t Respond?
If they prove obstinate after you bring up the issue, 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 — crucial evidence for your court case. Then, file your case at a local small claims court. Your landlord will be served with the claims case and you will go to court. In this case, you can break your lease without any fines.
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. Do your due diligence before taking any steps and aim for a communication-based solution before legal action.
Original Publish Date 10/11/2022 – Updated 11/20/2023