Summertime in Texas: The Law of the Mosquitoes
Ah, summer. And you know what that means: mosquitoes. Okay, so summer doesn’t officially start until the summer solstice on June 21, but the mosquitoes don’t know that, nor do they care. Many otherwise pleasant outdoor evenings have been ruined by these tiny pests. They’re so troublesome, in fact, that they’ve raised the ire of lawmakers, who have done something about them. Let’s take a look.
The Texas Health and Safety Code defines as a public health nuisance “a collection of water in which mosquitoes are breeding in the limits of a municipality or a collection of water that is a breeding area for mosquitoes that can transmit diseases regardless of the collection’s location other than a location or property where [certain agricultural activities occur].” A person is required to abate such a nuisance in or on a place the person possesses as soon as the person knows that the nuisance exists. Also, a municipality, county, or other local health authority may abate the nuisance without notice if it is located on residential property that is reasonably presumed to be abandoned or uninhabited due to foreclosure and is an immediate danger to the health, life, or safety of any person.
The Texas Health and Safety Code also declares it a public nuisance to maintain premises “in a manner that creates an unsanitary condition likely to attract or harbor mosquitoes, rodents, vermin, or other disease-carrying pests.” There is a criminal penalty for causing such a nuisance, and anyone affected by the nuisance can sue the person responsible for causing the nuisance. Also, counties are authorized to abate such nuisances if they have adopted proper nuisance abatement procedures. However, none of this applies to incorporated areas within a county.
In the incorporated areas of a county, it is up to each individual municipality to define and declare what constitutes a nuisance. Different types of municipalities have different powers and duties when it comes to nuisances, but any municipality can abate the same mosquito-related public nuisances as are declared by the Health and Safety Code for the unincorporated areas of a county, and they likely ought to.
In addition to regulating mosquitoes as a nuisance, the qualified voters of a county may establish by election a mosquito control district within all or a portion of the county, which is funded by a tax levy in an amount determined by the election. The purpose of a mosquito control district is to eradicate mosquitoes in the area of the district.
Finally, the Texas Legislature has recognized that bats play an important role in pest control, which includes eating substantial numbers of mosquitoes; and, particularly for this reason, has enacted laws for the protection of bats. Such laws prohibit a person from hunting bats and from purchasing or selling a bat or any part of a bat, whether dead or alive.
If you’re troubled by mosquitoes this summer, consider petitioning your county judge to hold an election to establish a mosquito control district, suing your neighbors to enjoin them from maintaining mosquito harboring nuisances, and installing a bat house on your property. Frankly, I’d rather do all of those things than be eaten alive in my own backyard.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.