Landlord and Tenant Issues: Who Bears Responsibility for Rodent Dropping Cleanup?

One of the most frustrating situations that can occur is a rodent infestation in your home. Indeed, a rodent infestation is not only exasperating, but it is also potentially dangerous. The hazards associated with a rodent infestation include the droppings associated with these types of critters. If you’re a landlord or a tenant, you may have questions about who is responsible for rodent dropping cleanup. The reality is that the response to this question is not as clear cut as a person might imagine on first blush.

California Law and Rodent Infestation and Dropping Cleanup

The first place to look for guidance about who bears responsibility for rodent dropping cleanup is California law. Unless a demonstration can be made that a tenant’s conduct has resulted in a rodent infestation, a landlord is responsible for the costs associated with rodent eradication.

California law doesn’t specifically address the matter of rodent dropping cleanup. However, because the legal burden for the eradication of rodents is presumed to be the landlord’s duty, an extension of that legal duty to include dropping cleanup is reasonable.

Terms of Lease Agreement

The next place to look for guidance as to who is responsible for rodent dropping cleanup is the lease agreement between the landlord and tenant. A lease agreement may spell out how a rodent infestation in the rented premises will be addressed. There may be additional language within the document about how the aftermath of a rodent infestation, including who bears responsibility for cleaning up droppings and associated mouse or rat waste.

The Shift of Responsibility to Tenant

As mentioned, California law places the burden for paying the costs associated with rodent eradication from rented premises to the tenant if a demonstration is made that the renter is responsible for the infestation. Evidence that landlords use to hold tenants responsible for a rodent infestation in rented property includes:

  • Messy or unclean condition at the property
  • Food left out
  • Trash not properly disposed of or garbage cans not appropriately sealed
  • Damage to premises that allows openings for rodents

When a landlord raises the contention that a rodent infestation is caused by a tenant, the renter does have the ability to counter the assertion. This is done by establishing that the contentions about the tenant’s conduct are inaccurate.

Standard Procedure in a Landlord and Tenant Setting

The standard procedure for rodent eradication and dropping cleanup in a landlord and tenant setting is for the landlord to arrange for these services to be undertaken by professionals. For example, a tenant notifies a landlord of a rodent issue at the premises. A landlord engages professionals to eradicate rodents and eliminate droppings. If the landlord is of the position that the infestation was not caused by the tenant’s actions (or inaction), the landlord pays the tab. On the other hand, if the landlord takes the position that the tenant is responsible for the situation, the landlord will attempt to have the tenant pay the costs associated with these professional services.

Protecting a Tenant’s Interests

When a rodent infestation exists in rental property, a tenant should notify a landlord immediately about the issue. Because of the very real dangers presented by rodents in a residence, prompt action must be taken to eradicate the mice or rats and to clean up the associated droppings and other waste.

If a landlord does not promptly respond and address a rodent infestation, California law offers alternative solutions to a tenant. First, a tenant can hire an exterminator, and by extension a rodent dropping cleaning company, to address the issue at the residence. The tenant can then bill the landlord for the costs or withhold the amount paid for the services from the rent.

In the alternative, a tenant can withhold rent payments until the landlord fulfills the duty to eliminate rodents at the premises and address associated issues, including cleaning up the droppings. Finally, a tenant can consider the landlord in breach of the lease agreement and move.

In California, a landlord has the legal obligation to maintain the rental property in a habitable condition. A residence with a rodent infestation is not considered to be in a habitable condition in the state of California.

Time Is of the Essence

Reference has already been made to the necessity to address a rodent infestation promptly. The fact that time is of the essence when it comes to addressing a rodent infestation and the elimination of rodent droppings from a home cannot be understated.

The stark reality is that rodents and their droppings can be the conduits of very dangerous pathogens. These include viruses and bacteria that are capable of causing serious and even fatal diseases in human beings. The failure to address a rodent infestation in a timely manner unnecessarily exposes a tenant or tenants to the risk of contracting a serious disease.