I often get questions about what to do about pests. Bed bugs seem to be particularly problematic, but it is upsetting for tenants to find ANY form of pest or vermin in their home. What should you do about it? And who is responsible?
There is a useful briefing note which I have found which was prepared to the House of Commons, whch you can see here.
This sets out questions to be asked as follows:
What does the tenancy agreement say?
You should always check out the tenancy agreement in any landlord and tenant situation as it may contain the answer. However I suspect that most tenancy agreements won’t even mention pests.
Was the property infested when the tenant moved in?
If so, it will almost certainly be the landlord’s problem. Sometimes landlords try to brush it off by saying that the vermin were introduced by a previous tenant. Well if so, its still their responsibility to get rid of it for the current tenants.
If the property is furnished, the landlord has a common law obligation to ensure that the property is fit for habitation when the tenant first moves in. It won’t be if it is infested with rats or bed bugs, and the tenant will be entitled to move out. So long as they move out promptly.
What is the situation if the infestation starts after the tenant moves in?
This will depend on the reason for the infestation. For example
- If rats get in because there are holes in the wall which the landlord has failed to repair, it will be the landlords problem
- However if rats are attracted to the property because the rubbish is not dealt with properly and there is festering food lying around, it will be the tenants responsibility.
A statutory nuisance
The report also helpfully reminds us that vermin infestation can be a ‘statutory nuisance’ as it may be prejudicial to health. So if it can be shown that the infestation or incursion is caused by the ‘act, default or sufferance’ of the landlord/agent, tenants may be able to bring a prosecution under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The report suggests
- getting legal help on whether the tenancy agreement covers the situation (although if it is written in plain English you should be able to work this out for yourself) and
- getting the someone from the Local Authority Environmental Health Department out to have a look.
- Or maybe getting an inspection done under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
I can speak from personal experience with the Local Authority. They were very helpful a year or so when we had a rat in our house.
The rat got in through a small hole in the wall (now blocked up) and duly died a death from poison while we were on holiday. Its corpse awaited us in the bathroom on our return, and was duly disposed of by my husband.
So the Local authority service is definitely an option.
Local authorities though are now short on staff and resources. You may get quicker service from one of the specialist pest eradicaiton services which are around – you will find them on the internet, often with helpful articles on their websites.
So who pays?
The person who is legally responsible. If it is difficult to work this out, the government note sensibly suggests that the parties split the cost.
Note, if you have a problem or question about a particular pest situation, please can you use the blog clinic.