Being a landlord comes with many responsibilities, and one of the major overarching obligations to tenants is to ensure the accommodation keeps a “warranty of habitability”. In short, this means landlords have to provide a clean, safe, hazard-free place to live. This incorporates all the health and safety aspects you’d expect, fire safety etc, but also that it is a pest-free environment. Pests come in many shapes and sizes, but all can compromise the health of the inhabitants of a property.
Is the landlord responsible for pest control?
With the legal responsible to keep the place fit for living in, landlords can soon become in breach of contract if there are critters roaming the place. Pests bring with them the potential to spread bacteria and diseases, to nibble at electrics, piping or even to nibble the tenants! It doesn’t matter whether it is mice, rats, bedbugs, fleas or pigeons that are causing a problem, if it is affecting the property and causing any kind of hazard, then it’s down to the landlord to sort it out. This means getting rid of the existing problem and minimising the chances of it reoccurring, usually by undertaking repairs to stop pests re-entering.
If tenants report any kind of unwanted animal presence it is sensible to respond quickly. Pretty much all pests can rapidly expand their population if left unmanaged. Bedbugs thrive if ignored. Mice breed 5 to 10 times a year with litters of up to 14 pups. Wasp nests build in size to thousands of insects over the summer. In many cases the securest option is to find a local pest expert who can deal with a wide range of problems not just one specialism like London’s Empire Pest Control, there will be a good company in most areas but do check reviews and speak to a few to find a good one. Landlords with multiple properties will do well to establish a relationship with a reputable firm who can advise them and respond quickly and be able to deal with multiple issues at any one time.
When is it the tenant’s responsibility?
The only circumstances where it is the tenant’s responsibility to sort a pest problem is where the tenant has caused it. If they have a pet that has brought in fleas or similar, then clearly they are to blame. Tenants are required to keep the place clean and tidy. If it can be proved that their lack of cleanliness has attracted the pests, then they are the ones who need to resolve it. Poor hygiene upkeep, such as food and rubbish left lying around regularly, or even leaving windows and doors open, can allow a problem to develop.
If the tenant denies responsibility and the landlord fails to act, the tenants can call the local council or environmental health. This is an unfortunate situation where the problem is likely to be addressed more slowly and allowed to get worse. In addition, the property and tenancy relationship may well suffer. The council has no legal obligation to provide pest control. If contacted, they have a range of options from simply giving the tenants advice, to serving the landlord an enforcement notice in the case of a full infestation.
How to avoid pests in a rental property
As is often said, prevention is better than dealing with the problem. Efforts to prevent pests should be made, in particular where they have caused a problem in the past. Generally, pest control should be a part of the ongoing general maintenance of the property. Make sure that necessary repairs are done and that holes and cracks are filled – internally and externally. Rodents can get in very small gaps and these are often found around vents, doorways, windows, where pipes enter the houses and by roofs.
Where possible consider the layout of a property to enable effective cleaning and storage. Good, sealed provision for rubbish should be provided inside and for storing outside whilst waiting for collection. Properties should be thoroughly cleaned and inspected in-between tenancies to be sure there are no pests present or issues that could attract pests at the start of a new letting.
When it is not clear who is at fault
Of course, on some occasions it may be very difficult to tell how or why the pests have arrived. Especially with something like a bedbug infestation. If there is a disagreement and the environment health team get involved, they may be able to shed some light on the situation and who is responsible. But it is never wise to ignore pests as they are likely to spread and cause more problems for both tenant and landlord. It’s preferably all round for these issues to be resolved amicably and a good relationship maintained. And of course the impact and cost of pests will be minimised by a rapid response.