CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. If a rental property is a single family detached residence, who is responsible for rodent and insect control – the owner, property manager, residents? The tenants, who are renting a house I own on Kauai, tend to leave food out as well as dog and cat food in areas where it attracts both insects and rodents. I have had exterminators to the property and they tell me that they can eradicate the rats with a variety of methods, but it will probably be only a temporary fix; if the conditions don’t change, the rats will probably return. As for the insects, my problem is primarily ants and what I have been buying in the store does not seem to be working any more. Also, my rental is on Kauai, so I have to advise my manager on the best way to handle things. It seems it’s almost impossible for a landlord to stay on top of the problem, if the tenants don’t take some responsibility for keeping the house clean and eliminating conditions that attract vermin.
A. Rodent and pest control generally speaking should be spelled out in the lease; however, regardless of what is stated in the lease the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu (ROH) Housing Code Section 27-9.1 (b) (11) state, “Inadequate sanitation due to an infestation of insects, vermin or rodents…” since the Housing Code specifically addresses pests, as landlords we must be attentive to any pest problems that may occur. The key, however, is that the level of infestation must be determined by a health officer of the State of Hawaii. And while the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 521-42 (a) (1), (2) and (3), do not specifically address pest infestation, they do state that the “Landlord is required to supply at all times during tenancy…a unit in a clean and safe condition and the premises in a habitable condition…; and must comply with all building and housing laws materially affecting health and safety…” Chapter 521-63 (a) cites that “If any condition within the premises deprives the tenant of a substantial part of the benefit and enjoyment of the tenant’s bargain under the rental agreement, the tenant may notify the landlord in writing of the situation and, if the landlord does not remedy the situation within
one week, terminate the rental agreement. The notice need not be given when the condition renders the dwelling unit uninhabitable or poses an imminent threat to the health and safety of any occupant.”
Hawaii Revised Statutes 521-51 states “Each tenant shall at all times during the tenancy: (1) Comply with all applicable building and housing laws materially affecting health and safety. (2) Keep that part of the premises which the tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the conditions of the property permit; (3) Dispose from the tenant’s dwelling unit at all times rubbish, garbage, and other organic or flammable waste in a clean and safe manner.”
The law seems to place responsibility on both parties to do their share in a situation such as this. The key is finding a balance. I would suggest that the Health Department would be likely to consider rodents a health and sanitation problem. I tend to agree and our company addendum has the landlord take responsibility for rodent eradication. This does not mean that a tenant does not have to do their part in keeping the property clean from overgrown plants (if they care for the yard) and especially food and trash left unattended. Your pet addendum should prohibit leaving pet food unattended; if you do not have one or it is silent on that problem, I would write a letter citing HRS 521-51 (1-3) from above and require your tenant to remedy the situation. I would further state you want to do everything to correct the problem, but you will need to do this with cooperation from one another. As far as the ants go, if your lease doesn’t address the situation I would suggest a compromise; perhaps you pay for an initial eradication and the tenant is responsible thereafter. Or perhaps you get quarterly service and split the expense. If the tenant won’t agree, remember you can change the terms of a month-to-month lease with 45 days written notice or a fixed lease when the lease renews; provide the tenant with any changes that will occur at renewal with 45 days notice. In the future, address this situation up front. If rodents are a constant problem in the neighborhood, address it initially and openly with your next tenant to come to an understanding up front. Remember though, ultimately you will probably be held responsible if the problem gets out of hand.