Dear PoPville – Looking for Advice on Dealing with Rats in a Rental

Photo by PoPville flickr user [email protected]

“Dear PoPville,

My roommate and I are both new to rental properties in DC. We have little idea what we are obligated to do based on our lease (which ends in February).

We live in a basement apartment in Bloomingdale, and have been here for 10 months. We’ve heard scratching and gnawing noises in our walls and ceiling for the past few months, but extermination companies said they couldn’t do anything about that. The sounds have been so bad that my roommate and I have been repeatedly woken up during the night. Finally, last night, we saw a rat in the apartment. We tried killing it, but it got away before we could.

Here’s the kicker- our landlord has been dodging our calls and e-mails. In the lease, it states we are responsible for pest elimination- including rodents. However, the lease also states the landlord is responsible for structural damage, which we know has been going on for the past few months with the gnawing and scratching sounds. We also found a few holes we believe have given the rats access to our apartment.

What would you recommend? Suck it up until our lease is over, in February? Contact an exterminator and pay the services ourselves? Or keep trying to catch our landlord? Is there any way possible to terminate the lease early?”

32 Comment

  • Landlords are responsible for vermin and extermination. It’s DC law and that clause in your lease is illegal.
    There is an exception for a single family residence, but since you’re living in a basement apartment the building is a multi-unit building.

    • Additionally, I would make one more request of your landlord to send an exterminator to your place (or allow you to make the arrangements but deduct the cost of the exterminator from this month’s rent).
      You’ll need to play hardball and say that if he doesn’t send one within the next 5 days, you’re going to the Office of the Tenant Advocate to figure out your legal options.

  • burritosinstereo

    You say you are new to renting in DC – does your landlord have a certificate of occupancy for the apartment? When I first moved here I rented an English basement (in Bloomingdale, coincidentally) from the owner, who did not have a COO. At the time, I naively did not realize that this was necessary for “landlords” who are renting out their basements and so of course I encountered tons of issues that he took forever to replace – broken hot water heater, mice, etc. I ended up just moving out since my lease was month to month.

    If you landlord does not have a COO, my advice would be to just break your lease early and move somewhere else. I would imagine he’d have a hard time going after you in court for any lost rent or security deposit, if he is renting illegally.

    • I have this issues and found this in DC Website

      A Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is a document that certifies that the use of a building complies with Zoning regulations and Building Codes.
      A new Certificate of Occupancy is required for new building construction or changes in:
      • Ownership
      • Occupancy Load
      • Use
      Please note that single family homes, individual units in an apartment building and individual suites in an office building do not require Certificates of Occupancy.

      • True, but a building with a legal basement apartment would have a C of O for the whole building that specifies 2 apartments.

        • Forgot to add that even though individual apartments don’t need a C of O, you need one to run a business at any given location, and renting out an apartment is considered a business in DC.

  • Wait it out until the end of February and find a new place.

  • The BEST thing I found when my landlord wasn’t taking care of our pest issues was a Rat zapper… they are about $60 and operate off batteries. It kills them with an electric shock and you just dump them out into the trash. Might be worth investing in…

    • +1!!! had a similar situation and bought the rat zapper after some serious research. We caught 6 mice in the first 2 days and didn’t have a problem after about a month!

  • goaldigger

    I would contact DCRA and report the landlord and see what your options are to get out sooner and not be penalized.

  • This post is regard to my basement apartment. Thanks for all the suggestions so far and for the short and long term solutions.
    Our landlord insists that we find our own company and then he will handle the bill. I’m pretty nervous about this – a few months back my roommate (author) got a dog. The verbal agreement was that no pet deposit would be necessary but we would be charged for any damage. Next thing we know my roommate gets an email with a request for $500 pet deposit. I’ve asked for written agreement to paying the bill for the extermination, I’d rather avoid legal action later…but the thought of letting this drag on any longer is painful.

    • Pay the bill yourself and deduct it from rent.

      • Agreed. If he said he would cover the bill, just deduct it from the rent. Problem solved.
        Be sure to send him a copy of the receipt via email for everyone’s records.
        You’re moving out in February, so it’s not like he has the time to take legal action against you or get you evicted. It’s only a few hundred bucks in costs, so it’s not worth his hassle.

        • When dealing with your landlord ALWAYS leave an email trail. Preferably conduct the agreements over email, or if you must recap all phone conversations by email.

    • I wouldn’t deduct it from the rent. I had a very bad landlord (also in Bloomingdale) when I first moved to DC, and we ended up going through the whole legal process to try to get them to fix things (mostly water/flooding problems and all of the stuff related to it, as well as a roach infestation). The first thing I would do would be to contact the office of the tenant advocate. Keep calling, it took us a bit to get through. They informed us that deducting the cost of repairs from the rent isn’t legal and you’re still obligated to pay the full amount of rent. They may tell you to contact DCRA, but the process of inspections/potential fines/reinspections takes months and the landlord will inevitably file for extension after extension to put off fixing things until you move out (which is what happened in our case, and our landlord eventually let us out of the lease a month early instead of fixing things). Have the tenant advocate help you write a strongly worded letter, threaten to report them if they don’t have a COO/business license, etc. Technically speaking, deducting the cost of the exterminator from your rent will not help you if you end up going to court against them. The terms of the lease are against the law and not enforceable, so it is ultimately their responsibility to pay. If not, ask them to let you out of the lease and get out of there.

  • I had a similar situation. The management company would not adequately address the issues so we ended up getting a lawyer and settling outside of court. The other responder is correct – in multifamily structures, it is up to the owner to address vermin issues. I would send a request in writing (email or letter, however you are instructed to do in your lease) requesting extermination service. Is there a clause in your lease that all requests must be responded to within 48 hours? Typical leases do. Once you don’t hear back, you can either obtain extermination services yourself and subtract the cost from your rent or get a lawyer to write a letter on your behalf requesting the service – ie your right to have a rodent-free home under DC law (or even just quote some of the law in your letter). Most lawyers will do this for a small fee or pro-bono (and take a percentage of your settlement if it got to that). The letterhead from the lawyer/the escalation of your request might be enough to get them to act. Good luck.

  • Burn it down.

    In all seriousness, you should demand that he pay for it. If he continues to refuse, tell him you are going to speak to the OTA (office of tenant advocate) about your options, and request that he provide you with:

    – Certificate of Occupancy for the unit
    – Landlord’s Basic Business License
    – FR-500 form submitted to the DC Office of Tax & Revenue
    – post-inspection approval report from the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
    – registration of the unit from the DC Department of Housing and Community Development’s Rental Accommodations Division

    Odds are that he doesn’t have most, if any of that documentation — that will probably get him to act.

    • Also wanted to add:

      1. Does your landlord live upstairs?? You’d think he might give a shlt that there are rats running around his house. Jesus christ.

      2. I’m really sorry this is happening. You said you’re new to renting in DC – does that mean you’re new to the city? I want to tell you that I’ve lived in three rental apartments and NEVER had a problem like this, and now I’m a landlord and would never behave this way in a million years. So I hope you don’t automatically assume DC is a rat infested trench of bad landlords. I’m sorry!

      • Hey Kelly, I’m a LL and familiar with these laws. The LL in this case sounds pretty awful. Just to let you know, a tenant is entitled to see the COO and BBL but not the other paperwork you mention. Rent control (or exemption) disclosure is required but not the registration itself.

  • Call the housing inspectors and they will cite the landlord and give him a certain amount of time to take care of the problem. Alternatively, you can file a case in the DC court on the housing conditions calendar and the court will order the problem taken care of. It’s a summary proceeding and you don’t need a lawyer just bring evidence to the hearing such a picture of a rat or rat damage along with any e-mails and the like complaining about the problem.

  • I am a landlord and i would remedy this asap. It sucks u dont have a responsive landlord. Move out or contact tenent services. That woukd get his attention for sure.

  • If you called a professional what they would do is set some traps for the rats in the apartment, and find where they are getting in to the building from the outside and seal that up. Since you’re moving out so soon, sealing up the outside probably doesn’t matter so much, and you can just set the traps for the rats that are already there yourself. Any good hardware store will have a variety of options, I would go with the pop traps.

  • Keep calling landlord to plug up holes and deal with the problem. threaten a pro-bono lawyer if landlord resists…

  • You guys have all been so helpful, thanks so much! It seems like we’ve nailed down the landlord, someone is scheduled to come next week and he’s agreed to cover the cost. We ARE moving out as soon as our lease is up, for sure. I had no idea things like the OTA existed, it was really enlightening to read through and find a few other violations…

  • Don’t be afraid to do what you need to keep yourselves SAFE. Call the exterminator and do not wait. Rats in your apartment expose you to serious disease, and god forbid you receive a bite from one of them. Take care of yourselves and don’t let this crook intimidate you out of taking care of your health and safety.

    I’ve had a terrible landlord as well, who lived above us. I look back on the fears I had in the past when I had to ask him to help us out with unclear issues. I realize now that fear was unfounded, DC tenants have a lot of rights and you should just continue notifying him via email. Verify with the Office of Tenant Advocate that extermination costs are required by law for landlords to cover, and let your landlord know that you will be ordering an extermination service, and that he is required by law to cover the cost. If he still doesn’t respond, just deduct it from rent and go after him in court if you don’t get your security deposit back. Jerk.

  • Look at your deposit and run it out. He cannot evict you till long time from past due. DO NOT PAY TILL HE FIXES OR ACTUALLY EVICTS YOU. THAT WILL TAKE HIM. 4-7months….

Comments are closed.