5 On Your Side

Renter learns her rights after roach infestation

Posted May 23, 2012 5:25 p.m. EDT
Updated May 23, 2012 6:49 p.m. EDT

— Think of how gross it would be to live in a home with roaches seemingly coming out of every corner, even appliances!

Carolyn Hewett found out she had that kind of bug problem the night she moved into her Cary rental.

"It was like a nightmare move," said Hewett. "Where they just come out of everywhere, just up the walls, everywhere!"

She says they were also in cabinets, on ceilings, the stove, counters, tables and even inside of the refrigerator!

"So that's the pizza in the refrigerator," Hewett said showing us a picture. "And a roach got into the pizza box."

Hewett says it's been miserable ever since she moved in at the end of March.

Adding to her concern, she watches her grandchildren. She showed us another picture of a roach crawling above her granddaughter's bed. As for her grandson, she left a bottle on the kitchen table one night. "The next morning there was roaches crawling on it," said Hewett.

Hewett called the rental agency, B&B Properties, and owner Barbara Pinna. Hewett says at first, Pinna told her to spray. When that didn't work, Pinna sent pest control. They came out three different times. Pinna came, too, and while there killed a couple roaches herself.

She replaced the refrigerator after exterminators found a roach nest inside the coils. But Hewett still had roaches.

After four weeks, she still couldn't settle in. She showed us boxes that were still packed and empty kitchen cabinets.

"This is after a month," said Hewett. " I've unpacked, nothing, nothing," she said. "As long as there are roaches, I'm not going to."

She rarely even slept there. Hewett told Pinna she wanted out of her lease.

"She said 'I don't blame ya, ... I could not live with roaches either,'" said Hewett.

But when it came to a full refund, that's where the understanding stopped. "She couldn't live with roaches, but she cannot give me a full refund back," said Hewett. Pinna would only refund half a month's rent along with the security deposit.

5 On Your Side called Pinna. She told us she'd been working with the owner to fix the problem and that the "treatment takes time to work."

So what rights do renters have in North Carolina?

We talked with David Kirkman, with the Consumer Protection Division of the State Attorney General's office. "At some point, if it can't be taken care of, the tenant does have probable grounds to terminate that lease," said Kirkman.

He says landlords must make sure a property is habitable. "And that means it's free of any kind of roach, or rat or other animal infestation," added Kirkman.

Tenants have to give a landlord written notice of a problem, and give the landlord time to fix the issue. As for rent, in North Carolina you cannot legally withhold it.

Renters can be held responsible if they caused the bug problems, for instance, if they constantly leave the place dirty. That was not the issue with Hewett, since the roaches were there when she moved in.

Kirkman says if renters run into legitimate issues like this one, they could negotiate a reduction in rent until the problem is fixed.

After 5 On Your Side got involved in Carolyn Hewitt's case, she got a full refund of $1,496 from Pinna, plus $265 in moving expenses. She's relieved and hopes the roaches didn't crawl into her boxes. She doesn't want them following her to her new place.