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What happens when your rental unit has a cockroach problem?

For many people, cockroaches are a source of squeamishness and even horror. They multiply quickly, hide in all kinds of places and create an unsanitary living space. If you've seen even a single cockroach in your rental, chances are there are many more.

Dealing with cockroach infestations generally requires expensive professional help. Once you advise your landlord of a serious issue, like a cockroach infestation, he or she should take steps to correct the issue within a reasonable timeframe. If they don't, you may have to explore your options for moving out or getting your rental unit treated for the bugs. You have the right to a habitable space if you're paying rent.

Whose responsibility are the bugs?

California law makes it clear that landlords have a responsibility to their tenants to maintain a habitable home. Generally speaking, the continued presence of pests, such as cockroaches, bedbugs or rodents make a dwelling unsafe for habitation. Your landlord is required to address issues with pests in your rental once you report the issue.

Unfortunately, many landlords will do anything in their power to avoid spending money on the maintenance or upkeep of their properties. That could include ignoring issues with cockroaches or other infestations, or attempting to force tenants into paying for insect remediation. You don't have to accept a failure to act on the part of your landlord. There are several options available to you.

Tenants can make repairs or even withhold rent

In order to establish that you've reported the issue to your landlord, you should report the cockroach issue in writing, as well as by talking with your landlord. Retain a copy of the letter for your own records. That way, you have proof that your landlord was aware of the issue and failed to act. So long as you have proof of the issue (such a photos or a report from a pest control company) and proof of your attempt to inform your landlord, and you allow reasonable time for repairs/pest eradication, you have some options available to you.

If you believe substandard conditions of your rental compromise your health or safety, you can abandon the rental by moving out before your lease is up. Generally speaking, the courts will not hold you accountable for any remaining rent beyond the date of abandonment.

Alternatively, you may choose to hire professionals to handle the extermination of your unit. Provided that the costs aren't more than one month's rent, you can hire someone to correct the issues within your rental and deduct the amount it costs from your rent. In cases where the costs are extreme, you may also consider holding your rent in escrow until your landlord addresses the infestation. In order to properly do so, the full amount of rent must be deposited into a special account and untouched until the issue is resolved.

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