You just signed a lease and found roaches after going through the apartment. Hopefully, none of your belongings have been moved in yet. You are both in a state of shock as you have probably never experienced anything like this before or the property never mentioned roaches at the time of signing the lease.
You are also uncertain about your next steps because you do not want to jeopardize your safety or risk exposing your belongings to this infestation. Well, it is okay to also contemplate terminating the lease due to roaches. But that will require you to know the process or whether you have valid grounds to do so. There are steps to take before you can do this, but knowing where to start is also important.
Just Signed a Lease and Found Roaches
First of all, if you found roaches in your newly signed lease, don’t rush into breaking the lease despite the discomfort it may cause. Instead, allow your landlord to address the problem as soon as possible. In many cases, they will take immediate action to fix the infestation.
However, if your landlord fails to rectify the situation, it is the landlord, not you, who breaches the lease agreement by providing an unhabitable living environment. In such instances, you can generally move out without incurring legal or financial penalties.
Typically, landlords must uphold the warranty of habitability, which involves addressing any health and safety hazards. It’s also a standard requirement for landlords to market their units honestly, ensuring tenants receive what they signed up for. To get to the specific details and circumstances of your situation, and to properly apply your state’s law, you want to consult with a landlord-tenant attorney who is licensed to practice in your state.
What to Do if the Landlord Fails
Below is a general guideline if you just signed a lease and found roaches:
1. Create a log of the incident
You can strengthen your case in court. But first, you have to record each instance of cockroach sightings or evidence, as well as your communication with the landlord. If possible, collect roach droppings and exoskeletons as evidence of the landlord’s failure to maintain a safe living environment.
2. Seek Informal Solutions to Address the Issue
Arrange an in-person meeting with your landlord or property manager to communicate the recent discovery of roaches in your leased apartment. Make sure to emphasize the urgency and extent of the infestation, and present any gathered evidence to support your case.
Ask the landlord or property manager about the timeline for addressing the roach problem. And express any concerns if you feel the specified time is insufficient. If necessary, contact your landlord directly if the property manager appears unresponsive, as your landlord may be unaware of the property manager’s negligence.
Maintain a comprehensive log documenting the date, time, and participants of all conversations related to the issue, including discussions with maintenance personnel, the property manager, or the landlord.
3. Draft a Written Request
If the landlord does not respond after a face-to-face discussion, submit a written complaint, dated and professionally written. Your written complaint should describe the cockroach problem, including locations and evidence. It should also note any worsening roach activities, and reference the date, time, and details of the discussion and subsequent conversations.
If the deadline for extermination has been missed, mention it in your letter and request prompt action. You need to keep a copy of the letter and note the date it was mailed for your own records.
4. Consider Legal Proceedings
If you have recently signed a lease and encountered a roach infestation without receiving assistance from the landlord, get to know the lease laws specific to your state. Consult with an attorney, and reach out to your local health department. Lease laws vary between states, so before considering moving out or requesting a health department inspection to deem the property unsafe, thoroughly review the applicable laws about your state and locality.
Ensure a proper understanding of the laws and protection against potential fines or fees in case of a landlord lawsuit by consulting with an attorney. Many counties provide you with resources for free legal assistance, such as law student programs or volunteer attorneys (if you are unable to afford legal representation).
Bring your prepared record with you to the meeting and request an inspection from your local health department. These findings will oblige your landlord to address the roach issue. Moreover, the inspection will serve as evidence that your landlord, rather than yourself, violated the lease by providing an unsafe living environment which can help in a potential lawsuit.
Who is Responsible for the Rules Regarding Landlord-Tenant Responsibilities?
A challenge within residential landlord-tenant law arises from the existence of distinct sets of rules governing disputes and basic safety requirements in each of the 50 states. This leads to discrepancies, for instance, the absence of central air conditioning as a factor of habitability in Pennsylvania, while it is mandatory in Arizona. This can create confusion during initial research.
Thankfully, numerous states have comparable regulations concerning a landlord’s responsibility to address repairs and maintain the property, which includes keeping it free from insect infestations. In cases of severe infestations, the property owner may have the authority to enter your unit without permission to address the problem.
How to Avoid Illegal Actions
So, you just signed a lease and found roaches! Well, while nobody will stop you from abruptly leaving the infested apartment, that can lead to legal and practical repercussions. That is why you need to be careful about dealing with the issue. And if you already moved into the apartment, the landlord may even claim that the cockroaches moved in with you. Here are things you can consider to protect you from breaking the law:
|Early Termination Fees||You may be subject to fees if you decide to terminate your lease early. Many lease agreements include substantial fees, which may require you to pay all or a portion of the remaining rent.|
|Legal Consequences||A lease is a legally enforceable agreement. If you violate its terms, your landlord has the right to take legal action against you.|
|Damage to Credit Rating||Unlawful termination of a lease can be regarded as an eviction in certain jurisdictions, potentially leading to adverse effects on your credit score.|
|Difficulty Finding a New Rental||Landlords heavily depend on references and word-of-mouth. Your prospective landlord is likely to contact your previous landlord, and a history of a broken lease can be a major concern.|
If the situation escalates into a legal dispute, it could become a time-consuming process. However, small claims courts are generally designed to efficiently resolve such issues with limited reliance on lawyers. So gather evidence, protect yourself, and present your case to potentially recover your losses.
Read also: Homemade Cockroach Killer with Vinegar