Who is Responsible for Pest Control, Landlords or Tenants?


One of the best ways to have a good relationship with anyone is to engage in an honest discourse about who is responsible for what. You need to understand your legal responsibilities as a tenant and as a landlord.

Pests are a hazard. They can cause serious physical and psychological harm, as well as damage to property. In this brief piece, we'll talk about what the law in Massachusetts says about who is responsible for pest control. Before we get into that, however, we'll talk for a moment about responsibility, and what it means for everyone.

That might sound a little abstract, but trust us - it's going to be relevant. Let's get started:



A brief aside about responsibility

As you'll discover in this piece, tenants are, by and large, not legally responsible for pest control in Boston. We can't tell you how the laws work in every city, but most of the areas we've looked at place the legal responsibility of pest control on the landlord.

Legal responsibility is not, however, personal responsibility. If your place is an absolute mess, and there's plenty of food for critters to access, you're more likely to end up with a plague of pests. If you asked yourself "Should I throw away my mattress after bedbugs?" and decided "No, I'll risk it" - don't be surprised if you end up with an infestation.

All this to say, that as human beings, we're responsible to a certain degree for maintaining our living spaces. This doesn't mean you can't ask your landlord for help with pests if you get some, but if you're constantly getting pests as a result of your own negligence, it's going to hurt your relationship with your landlord - and it can be harmful to your health.

This notion of non-legal responsibility extends to landlords, too. You shouldn't leave common areas a mess just because you're not legally responsible to keep them spotless. Treat common areas like they were your own home, and as though you had distinguished guests over at all time.


The law in Boston

As landlords, we have the privilege of supplying tenants with a place to live. And as Uncle Ben once said: "With great power, comes great responsibility".

On their Landlord Responsibilities page, the Government of Massachusetts notes that: "Common areas and apartments must be kept clean and free from rodent, insect and other infestation if there are two or more apartments in the building".

This means that in a rented space that has two or more apartments, it's the landlord's responsibility to deal with infestations. How this is arranged can differ from relationship to relationship: the tenant might buy their own pest control equipment and have the landlord reimburse them, or the landlord might hire an exterminator. The methods used should be discussed before any action is taken.


What tenants can do

The first thing to do if you're a tenant with an infestation is to let your landlord know. Open communication is key.

Should your landlord refuse to help you with pests, you have recourse - but you should only use this recourse as a last resort. The process can be long and arduous, and it will almost certainly affect your relationship with your landlord:

You can refuse to pay rent if your landlord will not address an infestation. First, you'll need to appeal to your landlord in writing, and then contact the Board of Health for an investigation. If they find that the infestation is a health code violation, they'll contact your landlord and ask them to fix the problem. Should that fail, you may be able to withhold some or all rent if you're not in arrears to your landlord.

Do not pursue this option without speaking to the Office of Consumer Affairs first. Read the Tenant Rights page on the Massachusetts government's website very carefully before you attempt to withhold rent.

It's also worth mentioning that one of the conditions for withholding rent is that "you are not the cause of the problem" - this ties in with the personal responsibility we discussed above.

With that, we hope you have a better grasp of tenant and landlord responsibilities regarding pest infestations in Boston. Stay healthy!