Are Landlords Responsible for Rats and Mice in Boston?

In Boston, and much of Massachusetts, your landlord is responsible for rodent control services (granted the infestation isn’t your fault.) Hiring pest control for rats and mice should be routine for most landlords in the 2nd-most rat infested city in the U.S., however, some may still resist. Be wary, though, your landlord may perform a rental inspection in order to find you at fault. They will use any evidence against you in court in order to skirt the bill. Keep reading to learn more about your tenant rights and what you need to know before talking to your landlord about an infestation.

Two wild rats emerge from a sewer drain, Boston

From The Boston Globe

In Massachusetts, “Your tenant rights guarantee you a safe, livable space in exchange for your monthly rent payments.”Tenant Law Groups

Specifically, your tenant agreement guarantees your landlord upholds the following:

Infestation: Common areas and apartments must be kept clean and free from rodent, insect and other infestation if there are two or more apartments in the building. – mass.gov

Structural Elements: [Landlords] must maintain the foundation, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, stairwells, porches, chimneys and all structural elements so as to exclude wind, rain, and snow; so as to be rodent-proof, weather tight, watertight, and free of chronic dampness, in good repair and fit for human habitation at all times. – mass.gov

There is a caveat, though. 

“​​If a landlord can prove the tenant caused the infestation the tenant would be responsible.”rentprep.com

Legal responsibility is not, however, personal responsibility. If your place is an absolute mess, and there’s plenty of food for critters to access, you’re more likely to end up with a plague of pests. If you asked yourself “Should I throw away my mattress after bedbugs?” and decided “No, I’ll risk it” – don’t be surprised if you end up with an infestation. – bostonapartments.com

Your landlord may conduct a rental inspection to see if there are any conditions present in the unit that are attracting rats and mice inside. In other words, if your landlord finds food left out, excessive trash, or even clutter – they could find you responsible.

Who should you contact if your landlord is unresponsive to your rental property’s infestation?

In the Boston subreddit r/boston, user mrivkees recently asked:

Rats in my apartment + unresponsive landlord. What are my options?

The top comment simply responded, “Boston 311” with over 115 upvotes. 

Boston 311 is “an easy-to-remember telephone number that connects you with highly-trained constituent service representatives. They are ready to help you with requests for non-emergency City services and information. The 311 Constituent Service Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.” – boston.com This is a free, trustworthy resource available to Greater Boston residents. For legal resources concerning landlords and rat infestation, Boston 311 will be able to point you in the right direction. (More on legal action at the bottom of the article.)

A common theme of this thread is to not be afraid to speak up. There is a time to be polite, and time to look after the safety of you and others. Not only do rodents carry life threatening diseases, (over 35+) but they can cause dangerous structural damage as well. Rats are known to chew through electrical wires, causing service outages and even building fires. 

One Reddit responder, Cmarks1791 had this to say:

Exterminator here, rats carry a ton of diseases that I can’t remember, but they’re very bad. I get not wanting to not be the “talk to the manager” type, but now is not the time. You have a right to not live with pests, and the sooner its taken care of the easier it’ll be (they reproduce very quickly). So call 311, the board of health, and your landlord as much as you can until they have a set date for an exterminator to come out.

Can I sue my landlord for rat infestations?

In most cases, it shouldn’t require legal action to come to an agreement with your landlord. Odds are, your landlord has hired exterminators to meet obligations before. This should be routine for them, but if they are still resistant, it might be time to take legal action.

Before taking legal action, review your lease and research your state’s laws. If you find your landlord should be responsible for the infestation, see if you can come to an agreement. In some cases, you could pay for the extermination fee upfront, but your landlord will either reimburse you or take the expenses off your next month’s rent. If you can’t come to an agreement, or your landlord is refusing to take responsibility, you’ll want to meet with a lawyer who specializes in tenants’ rights or is a tenant lawyer. – Jerry Insurance

A landlord or property management company may be ordered by a court to take additional steps to get the rat infestation under control as soon as possible. They might also be ordered to pay damages to any tenants affected. At the least, a tenant may be permitted to break their lease early without any consequence. – Tenant Law Groups

Don’t wait for your landlord. Get pest free before damage and disease take their toll.

It’s your right as a tenant to a safe living space. Thousands of Boston tenants each year endure living with pests, waiting on their landlord to respond. With each passing day of an infestation, rats will continue to multiply, burrowing deeper into the walls and crevices. Waiting only exacerbates what was a small infestation, and greatly increases the risk of disease, not to mention damage. Don’t wait – you’re entitled to compensation for out-of-pocket pest control costs. Call A1 Exterminators today at 781-561-1033 to get pest free before a small infestation becomes a big problem. You can also request a free estimate here, or leave us a contact form here

Additional Resources 

National Conference of State Legislatures’ Massachusetts Landlord and Tenants Rights and Responsibilities

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