Question: I am the owner of a lovely home that I have rented out for the past few years while I am on assignment in London. I have owned the house for 18 years and have never had a problem with rats getting into the house until this winter. However, I do acknowledge that the little beasts are in the fields all around the area. When the tenants found rats in their kitchen they expected me to deal with the problem. I said that they should set some traps, etc., which they did. Subsequently I agreed to screen off the deck area to prevent further intrusions, but am not sure this will be 100 percent effective. Can you clarify the proper practice for landlords concerning responsibilities for control of such pests? I feel that the occupant/tenant should do everything reasonable to avoid attracting rats, and should also set traps, etc., if they do come in. I can see the logic that the owner should do what is reasonable to plug up any holes or other access points. The lease doesn’t really cover this; it only says that the tenant shall keep the premises in a clean and sanitary condition.
Property Manager Griswold replies:
As the landlord you need to take the lead on this one. I would suggest that you employ a professional exterminator and have them set the traps and make any other necessary repairs to minimize the attraction to the local rat population. Also, have the professional exterminator provide you and your tenant with any concerns that they see regarding the habits or lifestyle of the tenants with the appropriate recommendations. For example, they may leave pet food outside or fruit that falls from trees, etc. These are examples of how the tenant could be unknowingly contributing to the problem. Then you should send a letter to your tenants informing them that you have hired the professional exterminator at your expense but their failure to cooperate and abide by the guidelines recommended from the exterminator will prevent you from assuring them that the property is vermin-free. Remind them that you each need to be responsible to work together and that you have and will continue to be willing to do your part but you must have their full and complete cooperation as determined by the professional exterminator. Should they fail to cooperate, I would suggest that you terminate their lease or rental agreement as soon as practical.
Question: We have been tenants for the past nine years and have two young children. About a year ago there was an incident with a leashed dog that broke away from its owner and attacked my child. Management did nothing. After a hearing, our local animal control authorities designated the dog as a threat. The tenant still lives at the property and his dog is required to be muzzled. Now a new tenant has moved into this same building and (guess what?) he has a vicious-looking dog. We have called management to let them know of our concerns. They told us that they have required a larger security deposit and monthly fee for the additional dog because of our intervention. However, that doesn’t help us, as we are still very concerned about our children’s safety. We would like to find a new apartment, but unfortunately our lease will not expire for several more months. Because of the safety issues as outlined above, what are my rights to terminate my lease before it expires?
Property Manager Griswold replies:
While you may have a solid argument for vacating the property based on the landlord’s actions, I would strongly advise that you contact a tenant’s rights attorney before taking any steps to unilaterally terminate your tenancy. If you simply leave without formally notifying the landlord, you undoubtedly will be on the defensive to prove that your grounds were legitimate. Don’t assume that you have established that your reasons for terminating the lease will be accepted by the court should your landlord seek to collect on the balance of the lease. Better to take the offensive and possibly get the landlord to agree to voluntarily terminate the short remaining term of your lease. While you had a very specific and unfortunate event with the prior dog, you are probably not the only tenant that is concerned about another similar dog now on the property. I would suggest that you speak with your neighbors and ask them to support you in putting pressure on the management to have these potentially dangerous dogs removed from the property. You should also contact animal control for their suggestions or possibly have them come out and investigate. Ultimately, if you choose to vacate the property prior to the expiration of your lease, the more documentation that you had legitimate concerns for your safety will be important to support your actions.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.”
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