Pest control can be a tricky issue to tackle when it comes to who is responsible, and many states, including Texas, have somewhat insufficient laws in place from which to gauge any clear-cut answers.
Landlords are certainly responsible for providing a habitable property to new tenants, and this includes being free of any infestations. The challenges come once the tenants have been living in the property for some time and the cause of a new infestation is in dispute.
In Texas, there are laws in place regarding bed bugs. These laws state that landlords have a legal responsibility referred to as an “implied warranty of habitability.” In addition to providing a habitable property at the commencement of a tenancy, Texas landlords are also required to maintain this livability throughout the duration of the tenancy, and this includes routine pest control.
Photo by Michelangelo Buonarroti
The first place to look for answers as to who may be responsible for a particular pest control issue is the lease agreement.
In most states, lease agreements will dictate that the landlord is responsible for certain aspects of the property’s pest control. As stated in the Texas Property Code section 92.056, landlords are required to make repairs or otherwise remedy any property condition that affects the safety or physical health of an “ordinary tenant.”
In other words, if a pest problem is causing structural damage to the property or otherwise endangering the health and safety of the tenant’s, the landlord is responsible for remedying the issue. The use of the term “ordinary tenant” relates to the law only enforcing the landlord’s responsibility as it relates to general health requirements—tenants with conditions that make them higher risk and require additional pest control management typically must assume this added responsibility for themselves.
In certain circumstances, a tenant can certainly be held responsible for resolving pest control issues. If a tenant has caused the pest problem due to negligence, they will usually be held accountable. For example, if they leave food scraps out regularly, live in a cluttered environment, and don’t organize their waste disposal properly, it’s likely to attract pests into the home.
Pest problems can also spread quickly into adjacent dwellings, particularly in apartment buildings and other complexes with shared walls.
When a tenant is persistently living in ways that create and maintain a pest issue, landlords are advised to gather as much proof as possible, enough of which will hopefully prove their negligence, allowing the landlord to hold them accountable.
When it comes to assigning responsibility for pest issues, the lines are a little blurry on many fronts. The most clear-cut determination covers the presence of termites, which is always a landlord’s responsibility. Rat infestations may be deemed the fault of the tenants, unless they are entering via a hole in the property’s external walls or foundations, in which case the landlord must fix the issue. Cockroaches are typically the landlord’s responsibility, unless or until they become a persistent pest, and it is the tenant’s negligence that is the most likely cause of their reappearance.
If a tenant feels that their landlord has neglected their obligations regarding pest control, or if they feel they are being unfairly accused of causing a pest issue and no resolution can be amicably reached, it may be necessary to take further action.
Before taking the steps towards further action, parties should ensure that they have fully exhausted all reasonable avenues for resolution. This should include sending a demand letter as a last-ditch attempt to reach a conclusion without the need to involve the court system.
Sometimes, an amicable solution can’t be reached. When it comes to suing a landlord in small claims court, the location of the property will affect aspects of the process that should be taken into consideration. For example, when it comes to small claims court limits for how much you can sue for, in California, the limit is $10,000, while in Texas, the maximum is $20,000, and that limit goes for any city in the state; Austin, Houston, San Antonio, etc.
When it comes to bed bugs, most presume that they are naturally the responsibility of the tenant, given where they reside. That said, a furnished rental property must certainly be free of bed bugs upon commencement of a new lease, and it is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure this. Conversely, if the bed bug infestation has been caused by the tenant or their guests, it will be their responsibility to resolve it.
Given the recent reemergence of bed bug infestations, the laws around who is responsible should be clearly outlined in any new TX lease agreements.
The more thoroughly a lease agreement outlines responsibilities such as pest control, the easier it will be to maintain a harmonious relationship between tenant and landlord. When it comes to pest infestations, the sooner it is acted upon, the better, and regardless of who is at fault, tenants should not hesitate to inform their landlords immediately to avoid greater damage and costs.