Under the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, landlords are responsible for maintaining the premises under A.R.S. § 33-1324(A). This includes regular extermination for cockroaches and other vermin. Although there are many apartments that are infested with cockroaches, and although many landlords do not fulfill their obligation to keep the premises clean, they usually don’t blame the infestation on the tenants. They might not do anything about it, or they might make a cursory attempt to exterminate so they have receipts they can show city inspectors, but it is very rare that they institute eviction proceedings against tenants and claim that it was the tenants who brought the cockroaches into the apartment.
But with bedbugs, it’s a different story. A perennial complaint we get at Arizona Tenants Union is that the apartment is infested with bedbugs and the landlord is blaming it on the tenant. Bedbugs are a particularly pernicious and they embed themselves into your apartment – they get into your furniture, your clothes; even your hair – and you can’t get them out. The actual process of permanently eliminating them is very difficult: usually you have to use heat or very strong chemicals, and the treatment has to be done building-wide, not just in one apartment. Remediation for bedbugs is very expensive, and as a result, landlords usually don’t want to pay the cost of removal, and instead, try to pass that cost on to the tenants.
Bedbugs come from somewhere. But they don’t just mysteriously appear in your apartment one night. Particularly if you have lived in the apartment for a while and haven’t had problems and then they suddenly appear, the idea that you are the one who brought them in is preposterous. But landlords make this claim in order to relieve themselves of cost and liability.
As mentioned above, bedbug infestation can be treated, but it has to be done building-wide, and it’s a very difficult process. Many tenants who face a bedbug problem decide they want to get out of their lease. Bedbug infestation is, in fact, a grounds for terminating a lease. However, you have to give the landlord an opportunity to correct the condition and you have be able to show that the bedbug problem remains extant even after the landlord’s supposed repair.
There is a company in Arizona that breaks people out of their leases immediately when there is bedbug infestation. What they do is wrong, and it can get you in trouble. Bedbugs, although serious and horrible, are not “sudden damage” like a fire or a collapsed ceiling which happens all at once. In those situations, a tenant simply has to give a certain type of notice under A.R.S. § 33-1366 and then leave. But bedbug infestation would not be considered “casualty damage” which allows you to immediately terminate in the case of a condition that happened all at once. Instead, it’s a health and safety issue. In such a case, you have to give the landlord a written five-day notice made pursuant to A.R.S. § 33-1324(A) instructing him to correct the problem or else you will terminate the lease under A.R.S. § 33-1361. Then at the end of the five days, you will have to procure evidence that they still exist, usually in the form of an inspection report from a licensed exterminator. Join Arizona Tenants Union and we can help you draft the proper documents, walk you through the notice process, and refer you to exterminators who are on the side of tenants, not landlords, and will give you a favorable extermination report.
Bedbugs are definitely a health and safety issue, and you can invoke your remedy after five days’ notice to the landlord. But what about cockroaches? They, too, are disgusting and difficult to get rid of. But they don’t pose the same sort of threat to life and limb as do bedbugs, and therefore we advise you to treat them as any minor repair condition such as a dripping faucet or cracked tile on the floor. The landlord does have to correct those conditions, but he has ten, not five, days from his receipt of your notice to do so. A copy of the landlord/tenant act is attached to our website under the “links and resources” tab; check out A.R.S § 33-1324(A), which requires the landlord to maintain the premises; and A.R.S. § 33-1361 which allows you to take action, either by terminating your lease or by using up to half your rent money to make repairs, five or ten days after notice is served, depending on whether the condition materially affects your health and safety.
We at Arizona Tenants Union strongly encourage tenants to stand up for their rights. You should join our union; we will make sure that when you invoke your remedies, you do them correctly. But only you have the actual authority to make the complaints; it’s your apartment.