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The Pest Clause: A Small Lease Addition to Avoid a Big Headache

Drew Sygit
3 min read
The Pest Clause: A Small Lease Addition to Avoid a Big Headache

There are a lot of clauses in any given lease, and some of them are obviously more or less business-impacting than others. Your late-rent clause, for example, is one that always gets plenty of attention.

But are you aware of how much of a pain in the neck your pest clause (or lack thereof) can create?

Pest Clauses Defined

If you’re not immediately familiar, the “pest clause” is simply that portion of a given lease that discusses who is responsible for dealing with pests — insects, rodents and some wild animals.

The basic law in Michigan is that “the owner of every dwelling shall be responsible for keeping the entire building free from vermin.” (“Vermin” is legally equivalent to pests). But that law doesn’t prevent landlords from using pest clauses to shift some or all of that responsibility to their tenants if they see fit — using a pest clause.

Related: Excerpts From Our Best Lease Clauses

This is Not a Small Matter

It might seem like the question of who deals with pests isn’t a huge one — but there are a lot of factors to consider.

  • It’s not unusual to spend a few hundred dollars in a single day trying to tackle a pest problem…and fail
  • Ignoring the pests is a bad idea because they not only cause potential health problems, but many pests can also damage the infrastructure of a home by chewing on wires, etc.
  • Choosing to deal with a pest problem using pesticides and/or poisons can cause adverse reactions
  • On the other hand, if you can swiftly and decisively deal with a pest problem, it’s a great opportunity to build some ‘cred’ with your tenants and possibly increase their loyalty down the line

One Idea for a Pest Clause: Tenants Handle Their Own Mess

In short, this concept is that if a tenant brings pests into their own living space, it’s their responsibility to deal with it; meanwhile, you, as PM, will deal with pests that come in on their own.

This of course is going to raise the question, “how do you know if the tenant did it?”

In general, if the pest is something like a bedbug, it’s easy to assume the tenant did it — but what about a spider infestation? Did the tenant recently move a bunch of boxes into the house from a storage unit? Have they taken the screen off of a window they often keep open?

Legally, the grey area here is expansive and annoying to deal with.

Two Weeks, Then You’re on Your Own

A different take on the pest clause makes it pretty cut-and-dry: if pests show up within the first two weeks of someone’s tenancy, you take care of the problem on your dime. After that, pest control is their problem, and they shouldn’t expect much from you by way of help except possibly a referral to a good exterminator.

Break it Up by Pest Type

You might also consider telling the tenants what kinds of pests you’ll handle and what kinds are up to them.

For example, you might be willing to deal with the expense of calling an exterminator for roaches, termites, and other insectoid vermin — but if it’s mice or raccoons, the tenant can figure out how they intend to handle the situation.

If You Don’t Have a Pest Clause, Consider Writing One

Not having a pest clause is a fast way to end up in some serious strife with your tenants — and then having to explain to your owners why you had to drop a few hundred bucks in a single afternoon unexpectedly.

Related: 17 Vital “Rules” Your Rental Lease Should Cover

It’s highly advisable that you put together an addendum to your lease agreements that lays out how you expect to deal with pests going forward and get a copy out to all of your tenants with your next newsletter or visit.

After all, there are enough pests in the world without adding your tenants to the list.

Do you include a pest clause in your lease? If so, what does it specify?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.