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Tenants Rights and Bed Bugs

Summary: Tenants rights and bed bugs are forcing landlords to revisit the rules that require that landlords to maintain their properties as fit to inhabit. Who is responsible for bring bed bugs inside the apartment. Is it the tenant or the landlord?

Dear Rick:

We just rented a large expensive home two weeks ago and haven't fully moved in yet. The day we got the keys the living room, master bedroom and master bathroom were alive with carpenter ants and ghost ants. The landlord just laughed about it. The ants were everywhere.

My husband found a hole the size of a nickel at the base of the french doors and fixed it, but still just as many ants. Finally we got the management company to send out an exterminator after we filled the jetted tub with water, turned it on and out shot thousands of carpenter ants and eggs. The exterminator isn't authorized to go into the walls or attic and the management company just wants their money. I'm afraid to move in and are we currently living elsewhere and paying rent on two properties. How do I get rid of the ants? Please help! Karen; Orlando, FL writes:

Dear Karen:

The presence of carpenter ants indicates a moisture problem in the house. Often, it’s backed up gutters, but it might be a roof leak or plumbing leak, as well. Carpenter ants only attack dead or dying trees so those palms you mentioned are a red flag. The exterminator should have explained why the carpenter ants were present.
By the way. Tell your landlord to stop laughing. Tenants have a right to a pest free environment. By law! You have grounds to sue if he keeps messing with you. According to one Renter’s Rights site:

If your apartment is unfit or uninhabitable, you may use a legal procedure called "repair and deduct."


In most states the law says that if the landlord has failed to fix what can be deemed a truly significant problem, you may, without the landlord's permission and without filing a lawsuit, have defects or other problems repaired. They, you may subtract the cost of the repairs from the next month's rent. That will get your landlord's attention, for sure.

Just remember, you can only resort to the repair-and-deduct remedy if the problem is more than simply annoying. The problem has to be a threat to your health or safety. You cannot make a deduction for discovering a cockroach or two, but you can make the deduction if you are fully infested with cockroaches and the problem can be documented that it has been ongoing.

Before calling in an exterminator you are required to give the landlord notice of the problem and provide access to your apartment. Be sure to put your complaint in writing and clearly explain to your landlord that if the problem is not resolved within two weeks time, that you will schedule to have the work performed and the cost of said service will be deducted from the following month's rent. Be certain to get dated and signed receipts from the service contractor showing exactly what work was performed in case you have to prove it in court. 

The law says that landlords must keep their properties sound. That includes floors, stairways and roofs. Electrical service, plumbing and heating must operate safely. He must supply a reasonable amount of hot and cold water and he must keep pest infestations in check.


Here's the catch. If it turns out that he can prove that you are the cause of the pest infestation, you're on the hook for the service bill. If your home is not clean and he says the cockroach problem is caused by your unsanitary living conditions, and he presents pictures of your messy kitchen, the repair bill will become your responsibility. If you refuse to pay, your landlord has the right to take the payment out of your security deposit.

Tenant rights are "inalienable." This means most of the rights covered in tenant laws cannot be signed away. Your landlord cannot have you sign a lease document that denies you these rights. When renting, these rights are usually referred to as a "warranty of habitability." Should landlord fail to maintain a dwelling as fit to inhabit, the lease can be broken, and the tenant is no longer obligated to pay rent.

There are lots of good online resources on this topic such as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's website. Nearly every state in the U.S. also has a tenant's rights website online. Plus, there are plenty of books on the topic, too.

That said, do you really want to deal with the type of landlord you are facing? My advice would be to look for a different place.

For more bed bug information please click here .

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