Here is a question to the blog clinic from Helen who is a landlord.
We have a flat which is rented out as two separate bedrooms with shared facilities including sitting room, kitchen and bathroom.
Last October, we had a new tenant who moved in – no problem. The other tenant moved out just before Christmas. In February, with one room still empty, we allowed our tenant to have her parents stay in the spare room for three nights. The tenant then contacted me about bites. I suggested that she buy some proprietary spray.
A new tenant then moved in and she had bites, too. They both contacted me and I arranged contractors to diagnose the problem. I agreed to pay for the bed bug treatment, although I did not accept liability as it had happened after one had been a tenant for about four months.
It was sorted out at a cost of about £500. They then asked me to pay for cleaning the duvets. I suggested that they meet that cost as I had met the greater cost. All is well now, although I did pay the newer tenant some money towards her cleaning,
Should there be something in the tenancy agreement about pests and where the liability lies for them?.
The general rule with pests is that if they are present at the time the property is let – the landlord is liable.
However, if the property is clear at the start of the tenancy but later becomes infested, then it is the tenant’s liability – unless it can be proved that the infestation is due to a failure on the part of the landlord to comply with this statutory repairing obligations.
For example, if the property becomes infested with rats and it is shown that they gained access due to a hole in the wall. This normally would be the landlord’s responsibility as the landlord is obliged to keep the ‘structure and exterior’ of the property in repair. Unless of course, the tenants made the hole in the wall!
It’s a question of proof
For the landlord to be able to make the tenants liable for the cost of dealing with pests, he needs to be able to show that the property was pest free at the start.
This may be difficult to do, particularly if the pests appear not long after the start of the tenancy.
Incidentally, note that the landlord cannot avoid liability by saying it was down to the previous tenants. If the previous tenants introduced pests then the landlord should eradicate them between tenancies and claim the cost back from the previous tenants. Not the new tenants.
If the pests appear quite a long way into the tenancy then it is normally safe to assume that it is down to the tenants – unless of course, they are there as a result of a disrepair the landlord is liable for.
In your case Helen, if your tenants have separate tenancy agreements for their bedrooms then you will have been liable for eradicating them after the new tenant moved in – as they could not have been her fault. Particularly as it can be shown that they were there before the start of her tenancy – as the other tenant’s parents were bitten.
The tenancy agreement
No tenancy agreement term will make the tenants responsible for the cost of dealing with vermin if they are there at the start of the tenancy or because of something the landlord is liable for. Such a clause would be invalid as it would be ‘unfair’ under the consumer legislation regarding unfair terms in consumer contracts.
Our agreements at present include a clause which says
You must keep the Property free from vermin.
Which implies that if the vermin are there because of something the tenants did or failed to do then they will be responsible. Although on reflection I may amend the clause in future versions to make this clearer. Maybe something like
You must not do or refrain from doing anything which attracts vermin or allows them access to the property and will be liable for the cost of eradicating any resulting vermin infestation. Save that you will not be liable for any infestation which pre-dated the start of your tenancy or which occurred as a result of any breach by us of our obligations under this agreement.
However, a clause which said something like
You will be liable for the cost of eradicating all vermin infestation found during your tenancy
this would be unfair and unenforceable as the clause could include vermin which were present there at the start.
Do you have any suggestions for suitable wording?