One rat found in house, what do I do?

32 Replies

I just rented my first rental home 3 days ago. They found a rat in the house and freaked out bad. What do I have to do as a landlord?  Like legally? I obviously don't want a rat in there. The tenants are acting its the devil himself. Refuse to set foot at the property. A rat trap was put out at night and it didn't catch it that night. They then called in the morning demanding an exterminator. I called back less than an hour later and they had already called one to come by stating I took too long to respond. . . 

Anyways, I want to tread lightly here as I don't want to get sued or fined or something. Would this be considered an emergency issue? If so, what is the time frame I have to respond and then also take care of it? And what does taking care of it mean exactly? Just getting rid of the rat that's there or also doing things like plugging ANY holes that the exterminator deems should be fixed? Keep in mind, it's a 70 year house. I am charging less rent than anybody else in the area (if that matters ). I lived in that house for 5 years with no issue. It probably got in the one month it was vacant. 

I'm in Washington state if that makes a difference. 

This is the Thanks I get for trying to do property management myself I guess. . . 

Start allowing cats in your rentals. 

Kidding. Kind of. Um It's the time of year. It's raining a TON right now and they're looking for dry areas. We've had a few around our 100 year old house we rent too. I just hit em with the pellet gun. 

I'm not sure on any legal implications. I can't imagine this being a emergency situation. I would think that sitting out a handful of traps and maybe doing a visible walk around and patching any holes you find would be just fine. 

I've had a mouse problem just a couple of times.  I buy those poison dispensers where the bait is in a plastic housing that the mice can get in but kids can't access the poison.  If you like these tenants otherwise, you could call an exterminator before things get worse.  If they are going to be drama queens maybe you could let them out of the lease if they want.  They will want their deposit back and if they claim rodent problems they are in a good position to get it.  I would just call an exterminator but that's me.

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Enforce your no pet clause .  All you can do is put out traps.

Vermin can get into a building in numerous ways. They usually only leave one way: dead. Regardless of what may or may not be in your lease, ask yourself "what would I want someone to do if is we're my house" or "what would I expect from the landlord if this were my parents home and they were renting?" First of all, call the exterminator. They may catch the thing, and your tenants will appreciate it.

After you pay to have the thing removed, add a clause to your lease addendum that specifies the tenant is responsible for all pests, vermin, and other etc. Be sure to conduct a move-in inspection where the tenant signs off, agreeing the place is pest free upon acceptance; after that bugs and rat exterminators are the sole responsibility of the tenant. 

But fix this, and do it quickly. Never wait to respond to issues concerning health, safety, or security. Fix first, adjust later.

Ya and that's what I did. Exterminator came same day. I paid it. They saw no real issue besides a few minor things. It already is in my lease that they are responsible. They probably brought it in when they moved in is my guess. I also did a inspection with them when they moved in. 

It just passes me off that they blew up my phone. I responded within 45 minutes and that wasn't fast enough. Then they go behind my back and tell all our friends and family (they go to the same church...) that weu gave them a disgusting house when I didnt.  I worked so hard to get the place ready for them. 

I just want to know legally how long I have to respond to requests. Yes, I don't want a rat in there , regardless of how it got there but to expect me to respond instantly and have it resolved instantly is ridiculous . I have my own life and career. Not even a professional property management company could probably be as fast as I responded. And them making my wife and I look like dirty people really pisses me me off. 

As a tenant, we lived in a house that had a rat problem.  We should have known when we found a rat trap in the closet on move in day.  But we didn't actually have issues for a few weeks.  When we called the landlord, he blamed us for the rat problem and said it was because we had cats!  Then he tried to say that there had never been rats before we got there (despite the rat traps that we found on the property!)  Didn't make any sense at all.  We have always had cats, but never had rats before.  What it came down to was there were holes in the kitchen that connected to the crawl space.  We finally got sick of dealing with the rats and cleaning up after all of their poop and pee without our landlord doing a damn thing, so we went to the hardware store and bought some of that expanding foam caulk and filled the holes ourselves.  

It sounds like you are a decent guy and you are not trying to be a slum lord.  It also sounds like they are overreacting.  Rats are annoying and gross, and should be dealt with in a reasonable way.  Offer to come by and patch up holes and perhaps offer to buy a few traps or some poison.  No need for an exterminator unless you have an infestation.  Set some firm boundaries with your tenants.  Don't let their stress throw you off.  Keep calm and handle the situation rationally.  

@Tim Sabo  In our lease, the landlord is responsible for pests for the first 7 days.  After that, any exterminators called will be payed by the tenant.  

@Josh Pass Welcome to real estate management.  Some tenants will pretend the end of the world is occurring over something that's a minor/non issue.  I had a tenant call me 20+ within a hour because the porch light didn't work and they thought the entire electric box needed to be upgraded (the breaker tripped).  I had another tenant call me 10+ times, left 10+ voicemails within a half hour because they didn't have water.  We had a plumber out at the property within 3 hours, but how annoying is that.  10+ voicemails within 30 minutes!  I hate voicemails, and I tell every tenant they should text if I don't answer.  I mean I understand the first couple of messages.  Not having water is a big deal, but 10+....Com'on,  Clearly I didn't have my phone with me at the time and I'm always quick to respond.  Seems excessive.

Read the Washington state landlord tenant act and all of the related legislation. That will give you a lot of information as to timelines for various problems. At 45 minutes you are well within your response time. :-)
I'd also have a talk with them about rats. Rats are EVERYWHERE on the west side of Washington. You can do the normal things to try and keep them out, but they will find a way in if they want to. Arm yourself with some facts about rats and lay it out for them. I know it's a pain but if they are that closely tied to your circle it'll be worth it.
Good luck!

Also speaking as a tenant, I think a response within 24 hours would have been reasonable.  These people sound rude and ungrateful.  

I had a rat issue at a property in Bellevue. We went in the crawl and set all kinds of traps, which helped for a few months but eventually they came back. Then we had to call the exterminator, do the full cleaning (to get rid of pheromones etc) and make sure all access was sealed off. 

Ended up being expensive, but honesty the alternative is worse. You really don't want them making your home theirs. 

As far as the tenant, well - better luck next time. I have had great luck and in the six+ years I have been self managing this particular property I have only had two tenants and neither one has been "needy". 

Ultimately, like many things in life it is about relationships. You can decide these tenants are worth developing a great relationship or you can decide they are not, in which case I suggest you turn them over at the first opportunity.

@Josh Pass Get it killed and make sure no others come in. That second part is the key - make sure this isn't a reoccurring issue. If the rats where you are are anything like here in Chicago, there'll be tons outside of the house, so poisons won't do anything but attract them. Seal off any entry points.

I highly doubt it came with the tenant - this isn't a 1/8" cockroach.

Also, don't consider the rent in this - you should have rented it broom-clean and free of infestation irregardless of what you charge compared to the market.

If it got in in that one month, find out how, seal it up to prevent others, and kill the occupants (the rats, not your tenants).

As far as the timing of their complaint vs. response- yes they are unreasonable, and now they can eat the cost of THEIR exterminator. This isn't a pipe flooding the basement or showering down on the kitchen, its a rat, it will be taken care of and will die, whether it eats the poison in 45 minutes or 8 hours. In the mean time, they were barely moved in, so it caused very little inconvenience.

Matthew Olszak, Real Estate Agent in IL (#471019601)
847-447-6824

I paid for an exterminator same day. He didn't find many reasons why it was there. It could  had easily came from the tenants as their stuff was in storage. That or leaving the door open for hours and hours as they  move in. Who knows. I just know I didn't have a rat in that house for 5 years I kicked there and suddenly there is one the first day they are there. . . I just wished they handled it differently. It sucks they made me out to be the bad guy. I had a 45 min response time and paid for a same day exterminator based on one rat sighting. I couldn't had done any better or faster for them an I got treated like crap. Oh well, welcome to the world of property management indeed. It's not for me. Will be hiring a professional soon. 

Josh,

You handled it well my friend. Now....what kind of lease do these tenants have? is it month to month? Annual? If they are acting like this when they first move in they might (I say might) have a guilty conscious and they may suspect they "bought the rat in with them" but are trying to overcompensate by "overreacting".  Hopefully it;s just that one initial incident and they will be OK from hear on out.

Sounds like you did everything you are supposed to be doing, and treated the tenants correctly. Go and speak to them in person: show them the lease they signed, show them the move-in report they signed stating the property was free and clear when they accepted it, show them you hold no animosity towards them. If they don't accept that, or chose to be impossible to move forward with, its time to find some new tenants.

You handled it appropriately. We have a property that when we purchased it and renovated it had a rodent issue. Just to make sure they did not come back we have a monthly pest service set traps and remove anything caught. And yes they still do catch one every 3-4 months or sometimes nothing for months at a time. That happens like everyone said when it is wet, in crawl spaces, etc. or in special situations like lots of earth work or doors just being left open Our leases states pest control is the tenants responsibility as well. Good luck!

Josh,

You are giving up self management just based on this one incident?  I would give it time and see how it goes in the future.  You will have problems from time to time.  

I self manage mine (I had 8 at one time) and yes, it can be stressful, but the cost savings are well worth the small headaches. I think you're letting these people get to you because they go to your church.  One reason I don't rent to people I know.  

Originally posted by @Josh Pass :

I just rented my first rental home 3 days ago. They found a rat in the house and freaked out bad. What do I have to do as a landlord?  Like legally? I obviously don't want a rat in there. The tenants are acting its the devil himself. Refuse to set foot at the property. A rat trap was put out at night and it didn't catch it that night. They then called in the morning demanding an exterminator. I called back less than an hour later and they had already called one to come by stating I took too long to respond. . . 

Anyways, I want to tread lightly here as I don't want to get sued or fined or something. Would this be considered an emergency issue? If so, what is the time frame I have to respond and then also take care of it? And what does taking care of it mean exactly? Just getting rid of the rat that's there or also doing things like plugging ANY holes that the exterminator deems should be fixed? Keep in mind, it's a 70 year house. I am charging less rent than anybody else in the area (if that matters ). I lived in that house for 5 years with no issue. It probably got in the one month it was vacant. 

I'm in Washington state if that makes a difference. 

This is the Thanks I get for trying to do property management myself I guess. . . 

Who was the rat? Your property manager or your tenant?

Originally posted by @Josh Pass :

I just rented my first rental home 3 days ago. They found a rat in the house and freaked out bad. What do I have to do as a landlord?  Like legally? I obviously don't want a rat in there. The tenants are acting its the devil himself. Refuse to set foot at the property. A rat trap was put out at night and it didn't catch it that night. They then called in the morning demanding an exterminator. I called back less than an hour later and they had already called one to come by stating I took too long to respond. . . 

Anyways, I want to tread lightly here as I don't want to get sued or fined or something. Would this be considered an emergency issue? If so, what is the time frame I have to respond and then also take care of it? And what does taking care of it mean exactly? Just getting rid of the rat that's there or also doing things like plugging ANY holes that the exterminator deems should be fixed? Keep in mind, it's a 70 year house. I am charging less rent than anybody else in the area (if that matters ). I lived in that house for 5 years with no issue. It probably got in the one month it was vacant. 

I'm in Washington state if that makes a difference. 

This is the Thanks I get for trying to do property management myself I guess. . . 

(NOT LEGAL ADVICE)

I don't think you're legally required to do anything.  But, from a business perspective, you want to address the problem by hiring an exterminator or telling your tenant to do so.. If they recently moved in, I would take care of it.

I only accept tenants who have prior experience living in SFR...some don't (just apartments). Part of their job as a tenant is to take care of minor issues like this...You might have to hand hold them initially, but if they can't handle it, tell them you'll offer them to buy out of their lease so you can replace them. If they become the "constant complainer" types, you wont want them anyway.

Originally posted by @Leslie A.:

Josh,

You are giving up self management just based on this one incident?  I would give it time and see how it goes in the future.  You will have problems from time to time.  

I self manage mine (I had 8 at one time) and yes, it can be stressful, but the cost savings are well worth the small headaches. I think you're letting these people get to you because they go to your church.  One reason I don't rent to people I know.  

 i never wanted to be a property manager in the first place.  I am an extremely busy person and just don't have the time.  and i don't want to deal with any of this.  It's just too stressful for me.  I'd rather just pay someone to deal with it.  Yes, it cuts into my profits but so be it.  I think professional property managers bring more to the table than just me not wanting to deal with tenants.  They are also trained to know how to deal with them and what they can say or do.  I have zero desire to learn any of that.  I have limited time so I'd rather learn about acquiring more properties than learning how to be a property manager.  All the rest of my properties will be out of state anyways so they will be professional managed.  I only attempted to do this because they were people from the same church so I thought it would be a lot more laid back.

how nice of them to also "save the receipts" for the traps they bought as well.  seriously, i pay for an exterminator same day and then they also want me to pay for all these traps.  for how long?  until there is never a rat ever?  that's ridiculous.  

@Josh Pass Especially since this is early on in the lease, this is a great training moment for your tenants to learn how things work. I think you should simply just say no to the traps. No explanation, no legal battle discussing the lease - just "No" and end the conversation. They think they are in control right now and are seeing how far they can push. When the toilet is dirty, are they going to bill you for cleaner? Oh, and bill you for the person to come clean too? No way, end this now - let them know it doesn't work this way and you don't have the time or desire to discuss this nonsense. Cap it off at the end with "And hey, friendly reminder while we're talking, the rent is due on the XX, if you could just mail it to the address in the lease its appreciated."

Matthew Olszak, Real Estate Agent in IL (#471019601)
847-447-6824

Rats are disgusting, and they carry disease. The center for disease control has recommendations on their web site. The big snap traps placed close to walls baited with peanut butter. Not poison because they die in the house walls...although there is a type that dehydrates them so no smell but how cruel. And seal holes. And keep food, especially dog food in containers.

Omfg so they call at 6am demanding I figure out how to eliminate  all rats today or they are talking to a lawyer . I offered to let them out of their lease but they don't want to. Even if they did, they said I'd have to give them back all their money, pay them back for moving expenses, fund them to stay in a hotel until they found something else. For God sakes, I highly doubt they  can do any of that (or can they) but it's still scary.  I really don't know what to do. It's been 6 days since they moved in! 

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