Roach Recourse?

Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com

I moved into a studio apartment about three months ago, and am having a few problems with pests. First of all is a persistent ant problem.Of greater concern (to me) is a total of three cockroach sightings: one adult, and two that looked like babies. I have notified my landlord in writing whenever I’ve seen a roach; he also knows about the ants, but I’m sure he can’t do much about them. Our building is sprayed semi-monthly. In a past column you mentioned that pests aren’t covered by San Francisco housing code. Do I have any recourse if I keep seeing roaches? I’m not sure if I can live with them!

I need to set this straight. While I reported that pests are not necessarily covered by the housing code, they are certainly covered by California Health and Safety Code 17920.3 (a)(12), which provides that any building or unit in which there is an infestation of insects, vermin, or rodents as determined by the health officer that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants thereof shall be deemed and hereby is declared to be a substandard building.

The question is: Will a health officer, an inspector from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, find that an ant infestation rises to a level that endangers the life, limb, health, property or safety? I honestly don’t know. You have to contact a health inspector (which you can do via 311) to find out. As I pointed out in Tenant Troubles: Ant Infestation “[A]nts do not carry disease, nor do they make it a habit to bite people unless they are molested.” The San Francisco Department of Public Health does not list ants as a health code violation.

Cockroaches, on the other hand, do carry disease and are uniformly recognized as insects that do endanger safety and welfare. Contact the DPH (again, via 311) to report a complaint if you see that your cockroach infestation is becoming a problem. Frankly, I’m not sure that a three cockroach sighting amounts to one. DPH will tell you what comprises an infestation worthy of concern to them.

Frankly, it seems like your landlord may be trying to be vigilant, given the fact that he sprays for pests on a semi-monthly basis. I’m not so sure that you could demonstrate a decrease in services for purposes of a Rent Board petition, given the facts as you have stated them.

Crow & Rose's legal practice emphasizes eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters.

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