If a tenant lives in a multi-unit building in DC and two or more of the units are infested, the landlord is responsible for the extermination of the pests or vermin (i.e. roaches, rats, or bedbugs). 

Under the DC Housing Code

A landlord is required to maintain the premises free of any condition that may render the property unhealthy or unsanitary for the tenant.  Failure to maintain the premises in this way creates a danger to the health, welfare, or safety of the tenant and can create a public nuisance. If it is determined that the property was unsafe or unsanitary prior to the tenant moving into the property due to existing Housing Code violations, the Court can render the lease void. 

For example, if the landlord knew that the property was infested with bedbugs when the tenant signed the lease at the beginning of the tenancy the Court can void the lease.  If it is determined that the property became unsafe or unsanitary after the tenant moved in and the violations are not corrected within a reasonable amount of time the lease can also be determined by the Court to be void, assuming the violations are not the tenant’s fault.  In many of these situations, a tenant will withhold rent based upon Housing Code violations and a Court can find that the tenant’s rental obligation was suspended as a result of Housing Code violations or that all or a part of the unpaid rent is indeed owed.  In these cases, the tenant will not be evicted if the amount determined by the Court to be due is paid before the eviction is completed.

Under DC law

The landlord cannot shift the responsibility of maintenance (including exterminations) to the tenant.  Duties existing under the DC Housing Code cannot be waived or shifted to the tenant if the regulations specifically place the duty on the landlord.  In other words, the parties cannot contract around the obligations set forth in the DC Housing Code, by for example, shifting the cost of extermination to the tenant.  Any lease or other agreement attempting to do is unenforceable under DC law.  Therefore, it is irrelevant what the lease agreement says about landlord and tenant responsibilities with respect to pest control if such provisions conflict with the language of the DC Housing Code.

Are you involved in a DC residential landlord tenant dispute and have questions about the process, or have questions about a case involving a pest control issue? If so, you can contact the Thomas Law Office and we would be happy to discuss your specific situation with you.

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