If you’re a renter who wants to terminate your lease because of a roach infestation, you’re in the right place.
In this article, I’m going to discuss whether you can terminate a lease due to roaches, and the steps you need to take if you want to pursue this course of action. We’ll cover all of this in detail, but here’s the short answer to the question:
You can end your lease due to a roach infestation if the landlord-tenant laws of your state or local jurisdiction allow it or if your lease permits it. Many state laws will require landlords to eliminate pests like roaches, and if they don’t, you may have grounds to terminate the lease. But other jurisdictions put the responsibility of eliminating pests on the tenant, in which case, breaking your lease due to roaches may not be possible.
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.
State and Local Laws Determine When You Can Break Your Lease Due to Roaches
I hate indefinite answers like “maybe” or “it depends,” but in this case, that is the right answer to the general question of whether you can break your lease due to roaches.
Different states answer this question differently and, in some instances, even local jurisdictions, like cities, weigh in on the question and pass local laws that touch on the topic.
Note: Check out our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenants laws of your state.
But to give you an example from a large state, let’s take New York.
Under New York’s landlord tenant laws, there is an implied warranty of habitability in every lease. This gives tenants the right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment, regardless of what the lease says. Any lease provision that conflicts with this right is unenforceable.
The failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or the failure to rid an apartment of an infestation are prime examples of a breach of this warranty. Source
In New York City, the law is even more clear-cut.
The Indoor Allergy Hazards Law requires that all landlords who have 3 or more units maintain their properties free of pests and mold. They are mandated to promptly remediate infestations and conduct annual inspections.
In comparison, states like Virginia have laws that are much more landlord-friendly.
The Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act states that tenants are responsible for keeping their dwellings free from insects and pests. They are also required to promptly notify the landlord of the existence of any insects or pests. Source
So, step 1 is to figure out what your state and local laws say about roach infestations.
Of course, even if your state puts the burden on tenants to address roaches in the dwelling, you should not forget to check your lease because the lease may be more favorable (i.e., it may permit you to terminate in the event of a roach infestation).
Regardless of how friendly or hostile your state and local laws are, you need to make sure you do your part.
For example, even if the laws require the landlord to get rid of roaches, that 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, they must remedying the issue (and cannot terminate the lease).
How Do I Ask for an Early Termination Due to Roaches?
You should notify your landlord in writing of the problem as soon as you notice it and ask them to fix it (if the laws or the lease support that position).
You must follow the right notice requirements in the lease and under applicable law (usually certified mail works), but I think it’s wise to shoot an email too so you have another record of the communication.
After you have given notice, you must give the landlord a reasonable opportunity to remedy the infestation. In some cases, the landlord tenant laws specify how much time they have to respond and fix the problem. If the landlord doesn’t remedy the roach infestation in a timely way, then you can send to them a notice of termination of lease.
If your landlord disputes your right to terminate the lease, you may need to take them to court, so make sure to keep a record of all communications and evidence supporting your position.
What if My Landlord Won’t Fix the Roach Infestation?
If the landlord is legally required to remedy the roach infestation, but doesn’t do so, then you can report them to your local housing authority or health authority. You can also take them to court if they have violated the lease provisions.
Landlords, like everyone else, don’t like getting reported or sued, so my guess is that they will at least attempt to work with you to remedy the situation.
But if you’re legally required to get rid of the roaches, then the best option is to find a good pest removal company to take care of the roaches. If you want a more budget-friendly solution, you can of course, buy a set roach traps or pesticides to help with the infestation.
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 term ends.
Another fine option is to see if they would be willing to let you out of the lease if you can find a new (and suitable) tenant for them to take over the lease or sign a new lease. I have written a full article on how you can do this here.
A final option you can use if all of the other ones fail is to just vacate the property.
If you do this, you will likely be on the hook to pay the remaining rent. But in many states, the landlord will be required to mitigate their losses and will need to try 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.
Now bear in mind that although a landlord is required to try to find a replacement tenant, they may not be able to do so quickly (especially if the rental market is soft). In that case, you could be responsible for paying a lot of money, especially if there a lot of 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.
It’s certainly not a perfect option and should only be used as a last resort, but you may decide that you would rather risk this than continue to live in a roach infested dwelling.
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 roach 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.