Pest Control in Rented Properties. Who is Responsible?
Pest Control in Rental Property
So, you’re a tenant in a rented property and you’ve got a pest problem. Or you’re a landlord and your tenant calls to report a pest problem.
The question is this: who is responsible and who pays? And the answer is: it depends. In sone circumstances it’s the tenant’s and in others the landlord’s. So that debunks the myth that pest problems are the responsibility of one party. Indeed, the word pest tends to cover too broad a spectrum to pin liability onto one party in anything like a clear cut way.
In this blog then, we’ll look into different scenarios and situations. And, I hope, provide some clarity over what can be a complex area.
Some tenancy agreements are clear and specific. They’ll state that the tenant takes responsibility for pest control. Yet others will state that the tenant should at once report pest problems.
So for instance, if the tenant has been away from the property or bought second hand furniture and a bed bug infestation results, that would be the tenant’s responsibility.
But, if the tenant is new into a property and reports bed bugs in the first few weeks then the picture is hazier. In such an instance a thorough inspection by a pest control professional is essential to determine if said infestation is an existing one – or is new.
And further, to ascertain if any of the tenant’s furniture is a direct cause, or if previous tenants left the problem behind them. In which case, it’s the landlords responsibility to correct.
Now to look a some other common infestations and how they play out in rental accommodation.
Other insect infestations
Other insect infestations, like the clothes moth damaging the carpet is also a grey area. Clothes moths can breed outside in certain conditions. Or they can come into the home on clothing and or carpets and rugs infested with eggs or larvae.
What’s most common though is that these infestations occur as a result of old nesting material hidden within the walls and loft space.
Often this is old wasps’ nests or bird nests. The natural fibres in nesting areas can lead to insect infestations around the home. From clothes moths, to carpet beetles, to woolly bear, bird mites and so on. In such cases, the responsibility to report as soon as possible tends to fall to the tenant. That gives the landlord a chance to deal with it, causing minimal damage to the carpet.
BUT: the longer the infestation goes unreported, the more likely the need to replace the carpet. And then the landlord could make a case against the tenant for not reporting the problem sooner. So you see what we mean when we say it’s rarely straightforward?
Fleas and similar things
On the subject of fleas and other creatures that bite, most tenancy agreements will state the need for a flea treatment carried out by a professional company upon leaving the property. Failure to do that could lead to deductions in deposit.
I understand why landlords ask this. But it’s not a legal requirement. There are also several pieces of legislation that pest control professionals must follow when carrying out daily duties.
The key point in all the above pieces of legislation is this: do we need to use a pesticide? The law and best codes of practice prohibits us from using a pesticide in the absence of a pest. Thus, if no fleas are at the property, we cannot legally treat. So this cannot be a legal need within a tenancy agreement.
Wasps, bees, hornets and ants come under the landlords responsiblility as they’re unpreventable pests with the potential to cause harm. It’s not possible that the tenant could prevent such infestations.
It’s clear that with ants, sugar and other sweet substances would attract them into properties. But it’s likely that ants would have well-established nests under and around the property before this even occurred. And that’s without even considering tropical ants, which I’ll cover in another blog.
Now! Let’s talk about rodents. In particular, rats, mice and squirrels. Who is responsible? Again, it’s another grey area.
If the rodents are infesting the property as a result of a structural defect it’s clear cut. This is the landlord’s responsibility. It’s down to he/she to eradicate the infestation using a qualified and reputable pest control company. And then to follow the advice from said company with regards to proofing and prevention.
It’s not acceptable for a landlord to attempt the work themselves. Just as it wouldn’t be acceptable for a landlord to carry out their own gas works and boiler repair without the correct qualifications.
If the rats are there as a result of something the tenant has done, for example:
neglecting the garden
leaving piles of food waste and general rubbish around …
… and that has attracted the rodents, then the landlord can make a case for the tenants to sort the problem out.
In most cases, for rats in the garden, clearing of rubbish and waste can be enough on its own to remove rats without the need for intervention. But again, a survey by a professional would be able to clarify this. That would be a small fee and would help to establish the severity of the problem, the likely cause and the solution.
Often the result of a structural defect outside of the tenant’s control. As a rule there’s either a hole in the roof or damage to the soffit that’s allowed entry. That would be the landlord’s responsibility to resolve.
HMOs and flats
These are a different beast altogether.
You can’t put responsibility of ensuring the maintenance of the garden and cleaning onto the shoulders of one person living in it.
Most HMOs will have cleaners etc. employed by the landlord. And, even if there was something one of the tenants had done, proving which tenant that was, is an impossible task. So their landlord may take full responsibility of pest control in general.
Flats are different again. In this case the landlord has responsibility for the confines of the flat. But then a separate management company handles the external and communal areas along with the structure of the building. So, in the event of a rodent infestation, the landlord would have initial responsibility. They’d take the matter up further with the property management company. It’s they that can employ a pest control company to investigate potential access points and discuss prevention.
The most important thing is always seek advice and clarification from a professional pest control company. They’ll offer guidance on how best to proceed.