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RENTAL ROUNDTABLE

Work With Manager to Get Pest Problem Under Control

August 06, 2000|ROBERT GRISWOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I live in a large apartment complex and have a persistent problem with roaches. I have had my unit sprayed and treated by a professional pest control firm with bait traps on five occasions in the last six months. I still have roaches because apparently some of the tenants in my building refuse to allow the pest control company into their units.

The roaches go to these units until the bait wears off, and the manager claims she cannot force these tenants to cooperate. I don't want to move, but what can I do?

Property manager Robert Griswold replies:

Though the landlord is responsible for pest control in the apartments, the cooperation of all tenants is required to control many pests, particularly cockroaches.

The owner or manager should take a firm stance with tenants who refuse to cooperate or who are violating the lease requirement to maintain their units in a clean, sanitary and habitable manner.

The first step the landlord should take is to voluntarily seek the cooperation of all tenants to perform a thorough inspection of all units with the pest control firm. The pest control firm can identify the source of the persistent roach problem and develop a plan of attack. This works as long as there is complete cooperation by all tenants.

The landlord may need to serve uncooperative tenants on leases with a three-day notice to cure or quit for any violation of sanitary conditions. For uncooperative tenants on month-to-month rental agreements, a three-day notice may work, but the landlord also has the option of serving a 30-day notice to vacate to either get their cooperation or to get possession of the unit so that professional pest control techniques can be used.

Attorney Ted Smith replies:

You should keep living there and work with the manager while he or she evicts the tenants next door if they don't cooperate.

I do not recommend that you withhold rent in this case, because that should be done only when there are substantial defects in the apartment, and that depends on the extent of the roach problem. If a court rules that it is minor or trivial, then the landlord has not violated the warranty of habitability.

The law states that the neighboring tenants must allow access to management to spray. If they don't, the owner will be able to evict them. Because you like living there, continue paying rent and cooperate with management to resolve the roach problem.

Attorney Steven Kellman replies:

A tenant does not ordinarily have to consent to having his or her unit sprayed. Pesticides sprayed in the unit can be uncomfortable for some individuals, and preparing for the spraying is inconvenient. However, if the refusal to allow access to spray the unit causes an enhanced infestation in neighboring units, the right to refuse access will probably be lost.

You may wish to contact your neighbors who refuse to cooperate and explain your situation. If they hear it from you and not the landlord, they may have a different view toward the spraying.

How to Handle Touchy Issue of Raising Rent

Q: I would appreciate your input on raising rents. I am an owner of a condominium in a nice area without rent control. Recently, rents in similar units to mine have been steadily increasing, and the vacancy rate is very low. I have been renting the unit on a month-to-month basis to good tenants who pay the rent on time and care for the home.

Many people have told me I am not charging enough and should raise the rent. My problem is that when the tenants moved in, I told them I would not raise the rent.

Am I held to this verbal agreement although nothing was put in writing? Other units in my complex are renting for $50 to $75 more per month. My conscience tells me to just keep the same rent and raise it when these tenants move out. What is your opinion?

Griswold replies:

Legally, you can raise the rent at any time with a month-to-month rental agreement, upon giving your tenant a written 30-day notice. Naturally, I cannot tell you to ignore your conscience, but the ownership and management of a rental unit must be treated as an investment. Thus, you need to be able to balance the emotional and business aspects of managing your rental unit.

Many owners prefer to use a property management company for this reason, as they are unable or unwilling to raise rents, enforce rules or evict a tenant, if necessary.

I always advise owners that it is better to be a little below market with a good renter rather than get every dollar and risk your valuable investment to an unknown tenant. However, your tenants cannot expect that your verbal agreement will be good forever. I suggest that you contact your current tenant and negotiate a reasonable rent increase.

Smith replies:

I understand your dilemma, but it's time to put your conscience aside and view this as a business matter, as it should be.

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