English: American-Copperhead snake Agkistrodon contortrix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had a call today from a residential tenant with problem—She found a copperhead snake in her back yard. Now this being North Carolina, which happens to have the distinction as having the highest rate of venomous snake bites in the country, I didn’t see much of an issue. She told me the wildlife removal expert she had called told her the same thing, until he realized that he had removed 17 poisonous snakes from her neighbor’s house a few years before.
The Residential Rental Agreement Act in North Carolina provides for rights and duties of landlords and tenants. The landlord is required to repair or remedy “any imminently dangerous condition” on the premises and the tenant is allowed to recover from the landlord any payments for such repairs that he had to make. The yard of a rental home is included in the leased premises. The statute lists a number of items that constitute an “imminently dangerous condition.” While a rat infestation and mosquito infestation are included, a snake infestation is not.
However, the statute does include the duty to do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a “fit and habitable condition.” Where one or a few snakes would likely not render a premises as unfit, particularly if they remain outside in the yard, at a certain point, depending on the number, location, and danger of the snakes, the infestation could rise to be sufficient to trigger the landlord’s duty to remedy the situation. (Like this house for example)
My advice to her? Get the wildlife specialist to get rid of the snakes and do what is possible to prevent them from coming back. Then ask the landlord to pay for the treatment. If he refuses, she may have to file a lawsuit. However, unless the health department tells her to move out and condemns the property, she can’t move out or refuse to pay rent without breaching the lease.
-Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who practices in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes, and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.