Pest control responsibilities

Question from Sibylle updated on 26th June 2017:

We moved into our new rental property six days ago. While unpacking we realised that mice are living in the hot water cupboard. It smells terrible and there are mouse droppings everywhere. Additionally, the place is flea invested. We started getting bitten on day two and it is getting worse. Who is responsible for paying for pest control?






Our expert Bernard Parker responded:

The responsibility for pest control is very much dependent upon the circumstances. On the one hand, under the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord is required to “provide the premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness”. On the other hand, a tenant is required to “keep the premises reasonably clean and reasonably tidy”. In other words, the landlord has to present the premises in a clean and tidy condition, and a tenant is required to keep it that way during the tenancy.

This means timing is a big question when deciding responsibility. It would be unlikely that the mice had decided to take up residence after the start of your tenancy five days ago. The stench and the proliferation of droppings suggests they have been in the hot water cupboard for longer. In these circumstances, you can safely conclude that the landlord should have provided you with a clean, mouse-free hot water cupboard. If, however, mice started visiting later in your tenancy because you left food uncovered and available for them, a level of responsibility would fall to you.

Similarly, the fleas were most likely to have been in residence prior to the start of your tenancy, and you can reasonably expect a landlord to be responsible for eradicating them in preparation for your tenancy. (Sometimes fleas lie dormant in carpet pile and are released by a carpet cleaning process.)

It is worth noting that ants and cockroaches are also a common problem. They can appear suddenly, even in a clean house. This can occur as a result of nearby construction or earthworks or a neighbour getting pest control treatment which sets them on the move. And it can be an environmental issue.

Small infestations that can be eradicated with a can of supermarket insecticide should be well within the capabilities of a tenant. However, if that treatment fails and a larger problem exists (such as a nest of ants or cockroaches) it may well require professional pest control. Problems of that nature are generally the responsibility of the landlord under the section 45 (1) (a) requirement to provide the premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness.

Bernard is principal of Quinovic – Kapiti-Mana. Quinovic's outstanding people and systems provide the most professional, effective and reliable residential property management service in the NZ market for over 30 years.

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