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Is the landlord responsible for this rodent infestation?

RatHere is a question to the blog clinic  from Maurice who is a landlord

I am a landlord, I rent out a cottage which relatively rural, it about 50 metres from a canal and close to a farm. It used to belong to my late mother, and has been let for the first time. The tenants contacted me to report a rodent problem.

My initial response was that it is to be expected in the area and that they should deal with themselves, don’t leave food waste lying around and put binbags in the wheelies.

My mother had two cats that were proficient vermin controllers, the tenants only have a dog and are complaining that the mice are driving the animal mad – apparently whining all through the night.

The tenants evidently feel that I should be doing something about it and have sent me video footage of mice in the kitchen and sound recordings of scratching in the walls. The property is 150 years old and has numerous nooks and crannies where mice can enter. To find and seal all the entry points would be almost impossible.

The tenants are now threatening to report the problem to environmental health.

A friend of mine who is also a landlord believes that it is the tenants who are responsible for removing vermin and not the landlord, please can you confirm this?

You may be in some difficulties as my understanding of the law is that landlords are responsible for vermin infestation at the start of the tenancy and for any vermin  who enter later due to any failure of the landlords repairing covenants (as in s11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985).

The main repairing covenant here will be the obligation of the landlord to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property.  If the vermin are entering through cracks in the building then you may well be liable.

However on the other hand if the main reason for the infestation is, as you say, to food being left lying around and rubbish not being disposed of properly – then the tenants will be responsible.

In this case it looks like it may be a combination of the two.  However, you may well be vulnerable to having an improvement notice served on you if the property is inspected under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

If it is absolutely impossible to resolve the problem then all I can think of is to suggest to the tenants that they find somewhere else to live and offer them a slightly reduced rent in the meantime.  (You can also ensure that they leave by serving a section 21 notice).

In future I think you should disclose this problem (in writing so there can be no argument later) to any incoming tenants so that they are aware of it, and perhaps suggest that they keep a cat as your Mother did.

Incidentally you can read about some cases on rodent infestation here.

What does anyone else think?

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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12 Responses to Is the landlord responsible for this rodent infestation?

  1. If I rented a property from someone, and experienced problems with rats & mice, I’d be very concerned indeed about that and I’m surprised this landlord expects any occupier to tolerate this sort of problem, and is apparently not willing to do anything at all to help. Tenants are your paying customers.

    Having seen rats near my own house recently (and mice inside), the problem was easily solved with £20 spent on bait and a bait box (to protect cats etc). This combined with measures to reduce food availability can be quite effective, and I cannot think of any good reason for the landlord not providing bait and bait boxes, and showing the tenants how to check them and replace the bait.

    I know there is least one nationwide company who fill gaps in houses to shut out rodents, and offer a guarantee with their work, so it is not impossible to stop entry, though ongoing bait poisoning is likely to be very important to lower their numbers. If nothing else it stops the problem getting worse. It may also be useful to encourage any other neighbouring properties to use bait poison as well, this will be more effective.

    If it were me I’d explain to the tenants that canals means rats so complete eradication may be impossible but I’ll do everything I can to work them to eradicate as many as possible and make their tenancy more comfortable.

  2. I had a call recently from some tenants of mine who had a problem with mice. They also have a dog.

    I called in a pest control contractor. He pointed our that the tenants leave a dish of dry dog food out – he said that mice absolutely love dog biscuits. He also put poison down – but said that all the time the dog biscuits are there, the mice will eat them in preference to poison.

    So may be worth checking to see if your tenants leave dog food out.

  3. Thanks for both your comments.

    Ollie C I agree that a good landlord should try to help, my answer was based on the legalities!

    Smithy – that is a really good point, thank you.

  4. Oddly enough the only properties I have had rodent issues with have been ones with dog owners.

    I wasn’t aware of them being attracted to dry dog biscuits so will add that to my “help yourself” guide for dealing with rodents which I hand out to all our tenants.

    Great tip Smithy thank you for sharing :)

  5. Interesting question +Tessa Shepperson , I remember a case a few years ago where the property in question (a converted barn) was rurally located and at the end of the summer, a swarm of flys were attracted to the external brickwork and eventually penetrated the window seals. Every day the tenant had to vacuum up 100s of dead flys in one of the bedrooms. The tenant contacted the landlord’s agent at the time and they stated that it was not their problem. The tenant then contacted the council and they sent someone around from pest control who said that there was nothing that could be done to stop the infestation. After weeks of negotiations with the agent about who was responsible, the only option available to the tenant was to end the agreement early, which they did. I believe in these types of cases, it is often in the best interests of both parties to find a way to work together to solve the problem. A happy tenant is a happy landlord. In this case, unhappy tenant, landlord has vacant property = unhappy landlord.

  6. We have always dealt with it as a Landlord’s responsibility. Where there are mice there are often rats so we always err on the safe side.
    Last year one of our Clients properties was besieged by rats due to work in a nearby property not owned by us. . We had to put them in a hotel for four days whilst this was resolved as with young children in the family the risk was considered to high to leave the family in the house. An expensive business but it’s all part and parcel of owning property I’m afraid.
    Geoffrey Lee

  7. I think a property inspection would be in order. I visit many let properties and some of them are in total squalor. If you deduce after your inspection that your tenants are good clean living people then its time to dip into your pockets and see off the little blighters.

  8. Interesting variety of responses to this question, most of which seem to find the tenant innocent.

    Unless the infestation of whatever it is can be shown by the tenant to pre-date the tenancy (such as a large mouse nest behind the bath panel, or a large wasp nest in the loft) the starting point is ALWAYS 100% tenant problem. Warren v Keen 1954 is very clear on thisa point. Such occurences are an incidence of occupancy.

    If something “just happens” like bats getting into the loft or bees swarming on a rose bush, or flying ants occupying the lawn, that is an incidence of occupancy.

    Unless the Landlord can be shown to have caused or contributed to the problem, or known about it before the tenancy started and said nothing or lied when questioned, tenant liability always as the starting point.

    Mayu not end up there, but tenant liability

  9. Some sensible suggestions here, as a landlord I can advise that it is always best to assess the situation yourself in the first instance, some tenants do tend to become hysterical when they spot a mouse, even though they are relatively harmless. The problem will need input from both parties; the tenants should make sure all food is stored securely and I disagree with the landlord’s view that it would be impossible to fill all gaps, there are specialist vermin-proofers around who do a top-class job. Your mother’s cats used to catch the rodents, so you are aware that the problem existed so you cannot expect your tenants to mop up the problem. If they don’t do it, you’ll have the same problem with the next tenants.

    A word of caution if you’re using poison – the carcasses can kill any animals that eat them so probably best to avoid this method if you or your neighbours have cats.

  10. I asked my pest control contractor if the dead or dying rodent could poison the dog. He said that the very small amount of poison eaten by the mouse, relative to the size of a dog (even a small dog) would be insufficient to do the dog harm. And rodents tend to go away and hide to die.
    You do need to keep the poison well out of the way of the dogs in the first place of course, because some dogs will eat anything.

  11. I absolutely agree with Tessa’s legal point of view and I believe that this applies to all so called public health pests, rats and mice inclusive. Primarily applicable at start of tenancy to ensure let property is suitable for human habitation… thereafter it’s the tenants’ responsibility. I am a pest controller that work for both, tenants and landlords. I know there is another peace of legislation called the Pest Act(can’t remember on top of my head what year it’s from but it’s still in place)that says any land or property owner has the obligation to keep it free from rats & mice. If they fail to do so local authority has the power to serve a notice on the property owner to enforce it. Council may send round their own pest control to eradicate rodent infestations but they would be billing to the landlord. All UK councils used to provide free rodent control until recently things changed by many of them slashing back on public services making it chargeable. Some councils in Scotland still continue with provision of free rodent control. Making rodent control a chargeable public service has made many people who cannot afford to pay ignore it(incl. risk to their own health). However council would still have the power to serve notice of improvement on the property owner (not tenant)regardless. As a pest control pro I’d urge any landlord to control rodents within their properties in EVERY case to avoid further damages that can go beyond repair. There have been many cases when rats, mice or grey squirrels gnawed through electric cable and caused short circuit resulting in fire set to the property. And what about burrowing under foundations and so weakening the structure? … damages to pipes and insulation, bad smell of urine … unsightly house with little prospect to rent to any decent future tenants after the existing ones would leave? CZECHMATE PEST CONTROL helps both landlords and tenants get rid of rodent problems across central Scotland.



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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