If you are a tenant who wants to terminate your lease because mice have taken over your place, you are in the right place.
In this article, we are going to discuss whether it is possible to terminate a lease due to mice infestations in your apartment or dwelling unit, and what steps need to be taken if you want to pursue it. We’ll cover all of this in detail, but here’s the short answer to the question:
You can break your lease due to mice if state and local laws permit it or your lease allows it. In many cases, state laws will require landlords to eliminate pests like mice, and if the landlord doesn’t, this can be a reason to terminate the lease. However, other jurisdictions put the responsibility of eliminating mice upon the tenant, in which case, breaking your lease due to the presence of mice may be a challenge.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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State and Local Laws Govern Whether You Can Terminate Your Lease Due to Mice
I hate indefinite answers like “maybe” or “it depends,” but in this case, that is the only right answer to the general question of whether you can terminate your lease due to mice.
Different states have different laws that govern this question and they vary widely. In some cases, even local jurisdictions, like cities, weigh in on the question and pass local laws that touch on the topic.
But to start, let’s look at a large state like New York, where the laws are tenant-friendly.
Under New York state landlord tenant laws, there is a warranty of habitability that is implied in every lease and tenants have the right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. Any lease provision that waives this right is unenforceable.
Examples of a breach of this warranty include the failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or the failure to rid an apartment of an infestation. Source
In New York City, the law is even clearer. According to the Indoor Allergy Hazards Law, all landlords who have 3 or more units must keep their properties free of pests and mold. And they must promptly remediate infestations and conduct annual inspections.
In contrast, states like Virginia have much more landlord friendly laws.
The Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act states that it is the responsibility of the tenant to keep their dwelling unit free from insects and pests and promptly notify the landlord of the existence of any insects or pests. Source
So, the first step is to figure out what your state and local laws say about rodent infestations. You can start by googling “landlord tenant laws for [insert your state].”
Of course, even if your state puts the burden on tenants to take care of mice in the dwelling, you should still check your lease because the lease may be more favorable. It may permit you to terminate in the event of a mouse infestation, so it’s worth checking.
Regardless of how friendly or hostile your state and local laws are, you need to make sure you do your part.
Just because the laws put the burden on the landlord to get rid of mouse infestations doesn’t mean you are completely off the hook.
In most cases, the laws will also state that if the tenant is at fault for the infestation or did not keep the premises in clean and sanitary condition, the tenant is responsible for remedying the issue (and cannot terminate the lease).
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How Do I Request a Termination Due to Mice?
When you first notice the mice in your unit, you should notify your landlord in writing of the problem and ask them to fix it (if the laws or the lease support that position).
Make sure you follow the right notice requirements in the lease and under applicable law (usually certified mail works), but I would recommend shooting an email too so you have another record of the communication.
Of course, the landlord should be given a reasonable opportunity to correct the situation. In some cases, the landlord tenant laws specify how much time they have to respond and fix the infestation. If the landlord fails to timely fix the situation, then you can send to them a notice of termination of lease.
If they dispute your right to terminate, you may need to take them to court, so make sure to keep a record of all communications and evidence supporting your position.
What Do I Do if My Landlord Won’t Fix the Mouse Infestation?
If they are legally required to fix the mouse infestation, but do not comply, then you can report them to your local housing authority or health authority and you can also take them to court if they have violated the lease provisions.
In most cases, landlords will want to avoid this so will at least attempt to remedy the situation.
But if the burden is on you to get rid of the mice, then the most effective option is to try to find an affordable pest removal company to take care of the issue. If you want a more budget-friendly solution, you can buy a set of pretty decent mouse traps, that are no-touch, instant kill, and reusable for around $20 on Amazon.
If the problem is severe and you cannot seem to get it fixed, you may want to explore other ways to end the lease.
One option is to just not renew when the lease is up. Or you can tell the landlord that you want to terminate the lease and will find a subtenant. The landlord may not agree if the lease doesn’t permit sub-leasing, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Related Reading: If you want to learn more about how to break your lease early by finding a new tenant, check out my full article on the topic here.
A final option you can use if all of the other ones fail is to just vacate the property.
Now you will likely be on the hook to pay the remaining rent in most cases. But in many states, the landlord will be required to mitigate their losses and will need to find a replacement tenant.
Once the replacement tenant comes in and starts paying rent (assuming it’s at least the same rent as yours), you will be off the hook for the remaining rent payments.
Bear in mind that, although they are obligated to try to find a replacement tenant, they may not be able to do so quickly (or at all) if the rental market is soft. That means you will be responsible for any remaining rental payments under the lease until they can do so.
That could be a lot of money if you have a long time left on your lease.
Another risk of breaking your lease like this is that a landlord may report any non-payment of rent to credit reporting agencies and take you to court. These actions can have a serious and negative impact on your credit score, which could affect your ability to rent a new place in the future.
This option is definitely a gamble and carries a lot of downside risk, so it should only be considered as a last resort.
But before you choose this final option, consider whether there are any other grounds for termination that we haven’t covered already.
Check out my full article on how to break your lease early without penalty for more details. It includes 11 situations where you can terminate early (plus one bonus option that applies in all situations).
Living with a mouse infestation is terrible, but the good news is that you may be able to get out of your lease if your landlord does not remedy the situation. And as we discussed, you have additional options even if your landlord won’t fix the situation.