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

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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?

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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!

About Author

Drew Sygit

While in the mortgage business, Drew rose to a VP position at the first broker he worked for and then started his own company. In the pursuit of excellence, he obtained several mortgage designations and joined mortgage & several affiliate association Boards. He also did WebX presentations and public speaking. It was during this time he started personally investing in single-family rentals, leading him to also start Royal Rose Property Management with two partners. He also joined the Board of a local real estate investors association, eventually becoming its President. The real estate crash led to an offer from the banking industry to manage a Michigan bank’s failed bank assets they acquired from the FDIC. The bank acquired four failed banks from the FDIC, increasing from $100M in assets to over $2B while he was there. After that, he took over as President of Royal Rose Property Management. Today, he speaks at national property management conventions and does WebX presentations.


  1. In a multifamily, it is not always the complaining tenants fault. It could be the one that is not complaining…

    I have handled roaches, ants, bedbugs, etc. The best way to avoid pest issues is to get better tenants… Once you have that, you can combat anything, as the good tenants do not want the bugs either and will help you as much as they can.

  2. La Nae Duchesneau on

    I have it in my lease that I take care of all pests. I don’t want pests destroying my home and I have had my share of tenants willing to live with roaches. Even knowing I pay to have them eradicated, they still do not call me to tell me there is a problem.

  3. I just had a tenant leave me an abandoned house full of bed bugs and all of his infested furniture and belongings. Even with the double security deposit that I had collected from him, after the deduction of the rent he skipped out on, the bed bug remediation ($1,100), trash and furniture removal, and an empty fuel oil tank ($900) there wasn’t anything left of his deposit. Landlords, be familiar with the appearance of bed bugs and keep an eye out for them when you do your interior inspections. This is becoming a large problem – not to mention an expensive one.

  4. I want to be informed about pests-especially rats-they get into the walls, they chew up electrical (which just occurred and I got a $400 electrician bill) and where there is one rat there are lots of rats–
    – DO An attic and crawl space inspection and check the foundation vents to make sure they are screened — rats can get in anywhere —
    Pay for the pest control yourself if there are mice rats raccoons -all of which we have had–the tenants will never pay & if they think they have to pay, they won’t tell you.

    • JOANN: we still think a Pest Clause is important as it puts the owner in the driver’s seat. You can always pay for it to protect your property (as you pointed out), but you can also use it to penalize bad behavior (open garbage cans in violation of your lease) and even get rid of bad tenants. Thanks for sharing your point of view!

  5. I include a clause that tenants are solely responsible for pest control. In the clause I explain that pests are usually a result of keeping an unclean house. When reviewing the lease with a new tenant, I always assure them that within the first 30 days of their tenancy I will handle any issues they discover, including pests. I also explain what pests are attracted to (standing water and sources of food).

    Recently I started adding a boric acid barrier beneath the baseboards and then caulking to create a seal between the baseboards and the floor. To soon to know if this makes a difference, but I expect it to help.

    I haven’t had to deal with bed bugs. The most common pests I’ve dealt with are roaches, ants and spiders, and I always offer suggestions for treatment but remind the tenant of their obligation to fix the problem.

  6. Great idea to add a pest clause to our lease. We pay for extermination of bedbugs, roaches, bees, etc. since they adversely affect the property. However, we consider tenants who complain about mice, spiders, and flies to be nuisance tenants. Really, how hard is it to set a mousetrap with some peanutbutter? I solved a “severe” infestation that caused a tenant to move in one hour with 2 mousetraps. Another tenant kept complaining about excessive numbers of flies in the house. We could not find any obvious source until my husband drove by one day around 3:30 when the tenant’s teenage daughter got home from school and observed the daughter sitting on the front porch with the front screen door wide open and the air conditioner on. Since the mother did not get home from work until 5:00, she thought the flies were getting in “a hole somewhere” until informed of the real source.

    • MICHELLE: we couldn’t agree more about nuisance tenants. You wouldn’t believe how many DIY landlords we’ve met that put up with them when they could easily get better tenants. Of course, there are the low-end properties where you’re only going to get nuisance-type tenants, but that’s a whole other topic!

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