Mice, rats, cockroaches, bed bugs, carpet moths…..the list of pests that can invade a home goes on and on and it’s almost inevitable that at some point your rental property will have an infestation of some sort or other. The question is, when it does, who is responsible for getting rid of them, the landlord or the tenant?
This is a tricky question to answer because it depends on the cause and how long they’ve been present – and often it isn’t easy to determine either.
What is clear is that it’s the landlord’s legal duty to make sure the property is as secure as possible from pests, so this includes plugging up any holes through which they can creep in. Air vents should be covered with fine grills (remember mice can squeeze through a hole smaller than the width of a Biro), holes in floorboard plugged and gaps round pipes filled with expandable foam.
Landlords also have a responsibility to make sure there are secure areas inside and outside the property to store household waste prior to the weekly collection, and that the design and condition of the property doesn’t prevent it from being kept clean. In particular, it must be possible to keep kitchens and bathrooms hygienic.
If there is an infestation at the start of the tenancy, the landlord must get rid of it. Even if there is an infestation several months into the tenancy, if this is caused by a fault in the building, such as gaps in the walls or mice have wriggled in through an air vent, then it will still be down to the landlord to sort it out.
So it’s the landlord, not the tenant, who is responsible for getting rid of pests?
Not always. Often a tenant’s lifestyle is directly to blame for attracting pests. If you leave food out, you’ll invite mice and cockroaches in, if you leave rubbish lying around you’ll lure foxes and rats, if you let the garden overgrow, you’ll provide a nice nest not just for welcome wildlife but also for vermin, including rats. Even failing to vacuum the carpet frequently can lead to an infestation of moths.
If a tenant’s lifestyle is clearly to blame, they must deal with the problem.
I once had a tenant who complained there was a mouse in the house and when I went to see for myself the following afternoon I found the kitchen floor littered with pasta from the previous evening’s dinner and half a loaf of bread uncovered on the kitchen table from the morning’s breakfast. They were basically leaving a feast out for the mice!
Nevertheless, I didn’t want to waste time arguing with the tenant about who was responsible, I wanted to get the mice out and protect my furniture being nibbled away, so I laid down some traps.
Another tenant once asked me to get rid of some moths which he noticed had started to appear about a year into his tenancy! I told him to buy some sticky strips from the local hardware store to catch them.
If the tenant’s lifestyle is to blame for an infestation, they must deal with it before it causes any damage to the property or the furnishings. Even if they don’t think they’re to blame, they must alert the landlord otherwise they still might be held responsible for any damage caused.
What if you don’t know who’s responsible, landlord or tenant?
Often it’s hard to know what’s attracted the pests and also how long they’ve been in a property. Bed bugs, which are evil little blighters that are notoriously hard to exterminate, can lie dormant for up to a year so just because a tenant doesn’t notice them for the first few months of their tenancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean they brought them in.
A tenant of mine complained of bed bugs three months after he moved in. As he’d previously been staying in a hostel I was fairly certain he’d brought them with him in his sleeping bag, but I couldn’t prove that was the case so I paid for the whole property to be fumigated.
As insects can be hard to spot, it’s vital for the landlord to thoroughly inspect a rental between tenancies, including examining mattresses to check for signs of bed bugs, and making sure mattresses, sofas and carpets are steam cleaned.
If you do have a problem with mice, cockroaches etc, you can contact the local council for advice. If the tenant is on benefits, they might offer a free service to deal with it. If they charge, it might be cheaper to use a private pest control company.