Can I deduct flea treatment from security deposit?

19 Replies

Recently bought my first rental property in Pennsylvania and sent the tenant a non renewal notice.  About 5 days after she vacated I discovered fleas in the apartment.  She had a cat which was permitted on the lease.  About 2 weeks after discovering the fleas I had a pest control company spray.  He made a note on my invoice that he did in fact find fleas and they appeared to have been there at least a couple months based on how many were present.  I deducted the treatment from her security deposit and also sent her a copy of the invoice as proof of the flea problem.  She of course is not happy about it and says she never had any fleas and she is blaming it on stray cats living under the front porch.  What would you do in this situation?  Am I wrong to withhold the treatment cost from her deposit?  Neither I nor the pest control guy believe an infestation like this could have happened in such a short period of time.   

@Joe P.

Hi Joe, I had a similar issue involving bugs. In the end I ended up eating the cost. It’s hard to prove the fleas were caused by her.

My suggestion is to move on.

Best wishes to you!

Ryan

@Joe P. It sounds like you already withheld the cost. Are you second guessing yourself? Of course she is not happy. Too bad. It costs money to kill fleas, usually two treatments because of eggs hatching. Cat plus fleas equals money. Unless there were fleas already there when she moved in, she caused the flea problem. This is not "fair wear and tear" in my opinion. 

Unless you have a clause in the lease that says you will treat for things like that, the cost should be the tenants. The security deposit is held specifically for these types of situations. I think you did the right thing, and tenants are never happy being held responsible for things like this. If you didn't have a SD and had to take her to court I would suggest just eating the cost yourself, but considering you had the deposit to pull from I think you were in the right. 

Thanks Aaron

@Anthony Dooley yes I am second guessing myself even though my attorney told me it is within my legal right to withhold it.  I figured I would see what fellow investors would do in the same situation.  I feel that I have sufficient evidence to support the deduction considering I have an invoice from the pest control company stating "Upon entering the apartment there were about a dozen fleas on my pants. Based on how many there is, the fleas had been there for at least a couple months."  Now I just have to figure out how or if I should even respond to her protest email and hope she doesn't decide to take it to small claims court.  This is my first property and first time returning a deposit so I guess I'm a bit uncertain.




@Joe P. I agree with @Anthony Dooley it definitely is beyond normal wear and tear.  I also agree with @Ryan Ellis that it’s difficult to prove where the bugs originated and that eating the cost was a viable option.

You’ve already taken your stance by billing her for the treatment.  She’s not going to be happy because “her cat doesn’t have fleas.  It’s all the other cats who have fleas”.  When did her tenancy start?  If you can align her tenancy with the “timeline” the exterminator gave you, then it’s open and shut.  Even if the origin of the fleas were the cats living under the property, the fleas were transferred to her cat and brought into the house.  I think billing her was fair.  

Don't even worry about it. Write in your new lease that tenants are responsible for keeping their pets on flea medication. One of the only reasons I have ever kept part of the deposit was for this exact reason. Of course she isn't happy about it but she can't prove the fleas came from stray cats under the porch anyway. Just be glad the tenant and fleas are gone. I can't imagine living with fleas in this day and age. 

If the fleas were inside the apartment, I would absolutely deduct the cost of treating them from her security deposit.

In this case, you also had your attorney tell you that you were legally allowed to make the deduction, so I wouldn't worry about the fact that the former tenant is unhappy about it. Tenants are never happy about security deposit deductions. I'd stand by your decision and give it no further thought.

@Bill Plymouth her lease started August 1, 2018 and she vacated July 27, 2019.  The invoice I have from the exterminator was on August 14, 2019 and says "Based on how many there is, the fleas had been there for at least a couple months." so that would put the start of the issue during her tenancy.  Since fleas need a host the only way they could be completely the fault of the stray cats would be if the strays were living inside the apartment.


@Jon A.   I am working on a list of ways to "bulletproof" the lease that the former landlord was using.  If you have an addendum that requires flea medication for pets would you still deduct from their deposit if you found an infestation after they moved out?

@Joe P. yes. That’s the point of the addendum.  Unless you want to pay for it. Flea medication is a requirement for a good pet owner in my opinion. It’s borderline cruelty to not have your pets on it in nowadays. I remember when it was impossible “not” to have fleas if you owned a pet. 

just curious, would it have been easy to tell the former tenant to come back and see the fleas with her own eyes?

Just shine a flashlight and watch those buggers jumping around.

Also, fleas are pretty easy to deal with. Just throw foggers everywhere. Shouldn't be expensive.

@Jon A. would you still charge them even if they had proof that their animal was on flea meds?

@Mike Franco I prefer to avoid any face to face confrontation with the former tenant.  Plus I already had it treated by a licensed professional who gave me a written statement acknowledging the existence of the issue.  I don't think the tenant is denying the existence of the fleas.  I think she is more so trying to claim the fleas were not present when she lived there and they must have been caused by stray neighborhood cats living under the deck.  The neighbor told me he has only seen the stray cat go under the deck a few times in the dead of winter when it was really cold.

@Joe P. I don’t think that would happen but I did read somewhere recently that fleas may be overcoming the latest medicines so I suppose it’s possible. If they can prove their animal is on the meds but there are still fleas, I am not sure how I would handle that. 

You did the right thing @Joe P. !  You're a nice landlord with a heart and it shows for second guessing yourself, but you will grow tough skin over time ;)

Best of luck to you!

Of course the fleas "weren't present" when she was there.. They were all busy biting her poor cat. 

Seriously, who can't afford a tube of Frontline? The stuff costs like 10 bucks. 

The fact that there were fleas in the house when she moved out, is proof that the cat wasn't being treated. The minute you treat the pet, the flea population rapidly drops to zero. 

I sadly know from experience that, even when pets are kept up-to-date with their flea medication, there can still be a flea problem.

I'll even take your tenant at face value and look at it in the best possible light for her.  Let's say she did everything right and regularly uses flea medication on her cat and the flea problem started with the nearby feral cats.  And?  So what?  It's still her cat that brought the fleas into the house.  Ergo, she's responsible for the flea treatment(s), no matter how you slice it.

I have verbiage in my leases that, not including the first 14 days of the tenancy, tenants are responsible for the cost of pest control.  I have one tenant who occasionally complains to me about flies.  I have no idea what she thinks I can do about pests that literally fly anywhere and everywhere.  I always tell her to look around her house.  Something she has is attracting them.  Plus, it's a duplex and the other tenant doesn't have this problem. 

I'm of a similar mindset as Anthony D. At this point you've already withheld the cost from the deposit and she may not be happy but I can imagine, neither were you when you had to go through the process of a) learning that there were flees, and b) learning that those fleas had been there for months. And as Jennifer noted, it is a great idea to include a custom clause within your lease letting the tenant know that they are responsible for pest control. @Joe P.

I think it's actually irrelevant whether it was her cat or stray cats that the fleas originated from. But to your point on "bulletproofing" the lease (I wish there was truly such a thing), consider having a pest addendum that requires affirmative action on the tenant's part to notify landlord of any infestations. Even if the stray cats brought the fleas into the house, your exterminator tells you they have been there for months - meaning the fleas were there during at least the latter part of her tenancy. If you had this language in place, failure to report the fleas would also be a violation of the lease, because the longer a pest goes unreported, the more damage they do, the harder (and more costly) eradication is.

This might not help you in this situation (though I agree withholding the deposit was a perfectly reasonable move), but hopefully it would help you avoid a similar situation in the future.

@Joe P. , this is an easy one.  Tenant is legally required to return the asset in as-like condition they moved in to.

Were there fleas present when she moved in?  Doubtful or you'd think they would have mentioned it at some point.  They're lucky you're only reducing the charges for fleas, there are potential future damages if the unit sits vacant longer or next tenant's pet gets fleas!