Your landlord is required by law to provide you with a safe and habitable home, which includes a home with working plumbing and one that's free from vermin and pests. It's not unusual to see roaches, especially in areas such as the humid South where the warm temperatures offer ideal breeding conditions. However, state laws vary on whether you or the landlord is responsible to pay to eradicate the pests. Your rights are determined by the laws in the state you live in as well as the wording in your lease.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Landlords must deliver a rental property to a new tenant in habitable condition, which includes a pest-free dwelling. After move-in, if roaches or other pests inhabit the home, the cost for pest control depends on the terms of your lease.
Habitable Housing Guidelines
State laws regarding tenant and landlord responsibilities and rights vary, but they all require that the landlord provide a habitable place for you to live. An infestation of pests, such as roaches, makes the property uninhabitable. Spotting a roach here and there isn't the same as having an infestation. To spot signs of an infestation, look for roaches that appear during the day instead of at night.
Check your floors, countertops and drawers, especially kitchen drawers, for roach feces. These droppings look like coffee grounds or pepper, or they might be longer and cylindrical if your infestation is from larger roaches. If the property is infested when you move in, it's the landlord's responsibility to correct the problem. If you've been living there a while, the responsibility could be yours.
Basic Pest Control
Your lease should spell out who must pay for periodic pest control -- it's typically the landlord, unless the lease specifically gives this responsibility to the tenant. The landlord must make sure the property isn't infested when you move in, but after that, paying for periodic pest control could be your responsibility as the tenant unless the lease stipulates it's the landlord's responsibility.
If you're required to pay for pest control as it's spelled out in your lease or by state law, but you fail to do so, you might be responsible for all expenses incurred to rid the property of a roach infestation. In some cases, the tenant may be responsible for pest control during the lease if the lease agreement doesn't say otherwise. In many multi-unit buildings, the lease specifies that the landlord is responsible for pest control.
Tenant's Living Conditions
Your house doesn't have to be dirty to see roaches inside occasionally. If the tenant's living conditions are attracting the roaches and causing the problem, the landlord can force you to pay for the pest control and evict you in most states.
For example, if the landlord enters the property -- with proper notice -- and sees a week's worth of dishes in the sink, food scraps on the floor, piles of garbage in the kitchen or bathrooms or other unhealthy circumstances, he can document the condition of the property and argue that your living practices are causing the roaches. Leaving a few dishes in the sink, forgetting to sweep one day and having laundry on the floor instead of in the hamper doesn't constitute unsafe living conditions.
What to Do
Some states might allow you to move out immediately if your unit is infested with roaches, while others require you to pay an exterminator to fix the problem, pay for temporary living quarters while the property is exterminated and take the amount you paid off your next month's rent. If you don't follow the procedure spelled out by your lease and the state law, you can end up as the one in trouble. Regardless of what kind of notice you must give or who is responsible for the pest control, always document the situation in writing and with photos in case the landlord decides to pursue legal action.
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.