When pest insects and rodents “move” into a property, they do it indiscriminately of whether it is rented or owned.
From an invisible menace, at first, the problem can turn fast into a full-blown pest infestation. And if not reported to the relevant agencies/authorities and dealt with in time, it can pose a risk to human health. So whether it is rats, mice, cockroaches, ants, bed bugs or fleas, most unwanted vermin are known to spread disease, damage properties and even exacerbate certain medical conditions.
A pest infestation issue magnifies further if you are a tenant, especially a private one. Endless disputes caused by the grey area of who is responsible for dealing with the problem, are often the result of ill-defined or implied terms in the tenancy agreement.
The lack of a clear move-in inventory, signed by both parties, may also contribute to the stress of establishing how and when the infestation came about. Is the cause for it some sort of negligence on the tenant’s part? Or has the landlord failed to maintain regularly fit-for-living property conditions by providing timely repairs? The added complexity of enforcing rights and responsibilities in the instance of pest problems occurring during the course of a private tenancy is what this article attempts to address and clarify.
Whose responsibility is to deal with the pest problem?
Accountability issues, regarding pest control in rented accommodation, are interrelated to:
- the express and implied terms of the tenancy agreement, with regards to pest infestation;
- the condition of the property prior to the tenant moving in:
- it was already infested;
- pest problems, caused by disrepair (the liability of dealing with the issue lies with the landlord);
- the tenant’s actions or inaction, which have contributed to the infestation
The risk to public health, associated with pest-infested residential and commercial properties, usually prompts local authorities and other governmental agencies to act. They may enforce owners or tenants to deal with the matter in accordance with “The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act”. If the landlord or the occupant fails to take comprehensive action against the infestation, the authorities may eradicate the problem themselves and seek to recover the expenses incurred. There could be also a case of needing legal actions to be taken or advice to be sought.
What does the tenancy agreement say about pest infestation?
Private tenants in England and Wales cannot legally request a written tenancy agreement from their landlord, whereas social housing authorities and housing associations are required to provide their tenants with one. Hence, rarely tenants in the private housing sector can resort to any expressly written lease terms when it comes to seeking their rights in a pest-related dispute. However, the Housing Act 2004 stipulates that it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the property is fit for living. They are legally obliged to provide a safe environment for the occupant and are responsible for the tenant’s well-being. The above can be conceived as the implied terms of a lease, which can enforce the landlord’s liability to deal with the vermin infestation.
Was the property already infested when you moved in?
Clearly, if there is an evidence of the property being already infested when the new tenant moves in, the landlord will most likely need to take action and deal with the problem.
In addition, landlords should lease their furnished properties in a habitable and clean condition under common law regardless of the cost. This may also imply that the premises are pest-free.
As there are different circumstances, in which pests might infest a property, the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks recommends to both parties that they should seek assistance from an accredited inventory service provider at the start, during and at the end of the tenancy. A thorough check-in, mid-term and check-out inventory report will help flag up any vermin infestation and could act in some cases as a proof of how and when the infestation occurred.
Did property repair problems lead to the infestation?
Structural problems with the premises and poor maintenance may facilitate a variety of vermin to make entry and settle in the rented property. It is the landlord’s duty to maintain the dwelling in a good condition and deal with an infestation, caused by disrepair. The tenant, however, needs to make their landlord aware of the problem.
If the occupant has caused the disrepair, then, the liability of paying for a pest control service lies with him/her.
Was the infestation caused by the tenant?
When the problem with the pest infestation occurs due to the tenant’s actions or non-actions, then they will be most probably responsible for dealing with it. This could be their role in the inadequate upkeep of the place, with respect to hygiene and cleanliness. Or they may have failed to maintain their pets flea-free on a regular basis.
Establishing responsibility and taking action
Resolving pest infestation problems between private tenants and their landlords is often a matter of competence of the local authorities. In the case of a dispute, if either party fails to take actions and denies responsibility, the Council’s Pest Control Service can be prompted to investigate the circumstances of the infestation. Furthermore, when responsibility has been determined, the Environmental Health Service is able to take enforcement measurements against the liable party.
There may be instances when the infestation occurs during the course of the tenancy but it has not been caused by disrepair or by a particular act or omission on the tenant’s part. The Citizen Advice Service can provide independent and impartial advice on the rights and responsibilities of those involved in the matter.
Pest removal and control methods
In accordance with the Pest control procedures in the housing sector, issued by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, an adequate pest management programme should follow the principle of Exclusion-Restriction-Destruction. Here is an overview of this approach:
- Exclusion – it involves methods, which ensure the prevention of pests from entering the property, such as proofing, repairs and maintenance of the building. Unfortunately, the measures of exclusion are often ignored and their importance – underestimated. Proprietors and tenants have no choice but to resort to various destruction methods because the infestation has already occurred. However, unless the property has been comprehensively proofed against the vermin, the use of pesticides may be ineffective.
- Restriction – it refers to the practice of creating an environment, which is not attractive to pests. Animals seek favourable conditions to breed and raise their young offspring. They also seek shelter in cold weather conditions and naturally look for an easy access to water and food. The level of hygiene, occupants maintain, plays a vital role in restricting pests from settling in the property.
- Destruction – translates into specific pest control procedures. They may include different chemical and physical methods that are effective for the extermination of insects and rodents or for the removal of protected species.
Further information on pest control services and available help
Pest control services for the private housing sector are not free of charge, whether they are provided by a local government department or by a professional pest control company. Vulnerable citizens and those, who claim benefits, however, may seek pest control assistance from their local environmental health department at reduced rates.