Mice and rats can be hugely destructive, gnawing through wires, leaving a mess and making a lot of noise at night. I speak from experience, as I’ve lived in many houses over the years where mice have been a problem. I also moved into a rented bedsit in London in the 1990s where the bed was infested with bedbugs. It was awful.
Rats and mice are endemic in many cities, and fleas and bedbugs can be a big problem in furnished rental properties. However, it’s not always clear who is responsible for dealing with infestations, as the liability from a legal perspective depends on the cause, and the cause isn’t always obvious.
In this blog post, I explain who is responsible for pest control in rented properties in different scenarios. In writing the post, I draw on my experience as a lawyer, landlord, home owner and former renter!
Table of contents: Pest control in rented properties
- What does the law say about responsibility for pest control?
- What if the infestation of mice, rats or maggots is the tenant’s fault?
- What should a landlord do if a tenant reports infestation?
- When does the landlord pay for pest control?
- Who is responsible for bedbugs: landlord or tenant?
- What if tenant won’t give access to treat a pest infestation?
- What are the rules for pest control in HMOs?
- Tips for landlords to prevent rodent infestations
- Final thoughts
What does the law say about responsibility for pest control?
The legal responsibility for pest control comes from three key statutes:
- Section 1 of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 requires landlords to ensure that the property is fit for human habitation and free from hazards when the tenant moves in, and to remain so throughout the tenancy. However, the landlord isn’t liable where “the unfitness is wholly or mainly attributable to” the tenant’s breach of covenant, i.e. to behave in a “tenant-like manner” and to allow the landlord or their contractor access to inspect the condition of the property and carry out repairs or maintenance.
- Domestic refuse, pests and hygiene are one of the 29 hazards listed in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) which was introduced in Part 1 of the Housing Act 1988. A hazard is “any risk of harm to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier which arises from a deficiency in the dwelling or HMO or in any building or land in the vicinity”.
- Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requires landlords to keep the structure and exterior of the property in repair.
The combined effect of these laws is that the property needs to be thoroughly clean before the tenants move in, and kept in good repair throughout the tenancy. Landlords should arrange for a thorough check-in inventory to be undertaken with photos, which will help establish the property was clean and that there were no signs of pest infestation at the start of the tenancy.
Landlords should ensure there are enough bins for the property and the number of people at the start of the tenancy. They should also keep the property in good repair to ensure, for example, that rodents cannot enter the property.
If an infestation of pests arises in a rental property, the landlord may be subject to enforcement action by the local authority if it’s a category 1 hazard (which pose the most severe risk to the health and safety of occupants, eg death, permanent paralysis, permanent loss of consciousness, loss of a limb or serious fractures) or category 2 hazard (where there are significant concerns it can adversely affect the health and safety of occupants).
There are additional obligations for HMOs, which I’ll discuss below.
>> Related Post: What does fit for human habitation mean?
>> Related Post: What are the HHSRS Hazards?
What if the infestation of mice, rats or maggots is the tenant’s fault?
Under the 2018 Act, the landlord isn’t responsible if the “unfitness is wholly or mainly attributable” to the tenant’s own breach of contract or failure to act in a “tenant-like manner”.
For instance, if rubbish has been piling up because the tenant hasn’t been putting the bins out for collection, or if they have put food in a recycling bin, which the council bin collection refused to take (as in the photo above), which caused an infestation of maggots, then the tenant is at fault.
In such a situation, the landlord should write to the tenants formally and ask them to dispose of waste properly. In this case, I asked the tenant to take the green recycling bin to the tip, as their failure to sort their rubbish into recycling and general waste had caused a nuisance with maggots and flies. It was my responsibility to tell the tenants what they needed to do, but not my responsibility to do it myself.
It’s important to follow up and check that the tenants do remove the rubbish, and then put their bins out as appropriate.
If rubbish causes a problem with mice and rates, the landlord should arrange for a professional pest control company to diagnose and treat the infestation. In situations where it’s the tenant’s behaviour that caused the infestation, the landlord can charge the tenant for the cost of pest control. I would ask them to reimburse me straight away with a receipted invoice, and not leave it until the end of the tenancy to claim from the deposit.
What should a landlord do if a tenant reports infestation?
If a tenant reports an infestation of pests such as mice, rats, maggots or bedbugs, the landlord (or agent) should organise for a professional pest control to diagnose the cause of the infestation and propose a course of treatment. Sometimes the cause will be obvious (for instance, overflowing bins), but often it’s unclear, particularly in flats or where it’s difficult to see how mice are getting into a property.
Ask the pest control company to take photos and write a report, as this is useful evidence in the event of a complaint to the council. If your properties are nearby, I would go and have a look myself, as I did when my tenant reported an “unexplained” infestation of maggots in the house. The source was obvious (see the bin above).
Regardless of whose responsibility it is to pay for pest control services to treat the infestation, authorise treatment so that the problem is nipped in the bud. Don’t wait to argue it out with the tenant. Pay for it, and then claim it back afterwards, assuming there are reasonable grounds that the infestation is due to the tenant’s behaviour and/or breach of the tenancy agreement.
When does the landlord pay for pest control?
The landlord’s obligation under the 2018 Act includes keeping the property free from hazards such as pests where the pests are due the poor design, layout and construction, making it hard for the tenant to keep the property clean, which in turn attracts pests, or where there aren’t enough bins to store household waste.
So, if for example, mice are getting into the building because of gaps in the external walls (see above) or another structural defect, it is the landlord’s responsibility to repair the property. The landlord should also pay for the pest control service to remove the vermin.
Where it’s the tenant’s fault, as discussed above, the tenant bears the cost.
If it’s not clear whose fault it is, the landlord should pay for pest control to eradicate the infestation. The landlord should also monitor the situation to check whether it comes back again.
For blocks of flats where the landlord isn’t the freeholder and the infestation is in the common parts, or outside of the “demise” of the landlord’s property, the landlord should contact the freeholder and/or management company to eradicate the infestation.
Who is responsible for bedbugs: landlord or tenant?
It can be very difficult to prove who is responsible for a bedbug infestation as they can live for up to a year without feeding, according to the University of Kentucky. This means they may be present in a property that has been empty for a while.
Bedbugs can seem to appear from nowhere, and are adept hitchhikers as hitch a ride into houses and flats on luggage, clothing, beds, furniture, and belongings.
Consequently, it can be very difficult for a landlord to “prove” that a furnished rental property had no bedbugs before a tenant moved in, and that it was the tenant who introduced them to the property. In that case, unless the infestation appears several months after the tenants move in, it’s likely that the tenant brought them and will need to pay for them to be eradicated.
Bedbugs won’t disappear by themselves and it’s important that any infestation is professionally treated as quickly as possible. Regardless of whose responsibility it is, it’s in the landlord’s interest to arrange for a suitable pest control service to treat the property and mattress with an insecticide. If, on a balance of probabilities, it’s likely that the tenant is responsible for the bedbugs, then the landlord can ask the tenant to reimburse them for the pest control service. If it’s not clear who is responsible, then the landlord should pay.
The tenant will also need to clean their bed linen on a hot wash, and remove clothes and clutter from around the bed.
PS In my case, I got bites from bedbugs almost as soon as I moved into my bedsit as a private renter. It was in 1992, before the internet. I called Lambeth Council and they sent round pest control to fumigate the room and mattress, free of charge. I can’t remember if I told the landlord, but the council sorted out the bed bugs for me. Nowadays, few councils will
What if tenant won’t give access to treat a pest infestation?
Under Section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, there is an implied covenant from the tenant that the landlord or their contractor “may at reasonable times of the day and on giving 24 hours’ notice in writing to the occupier, enter the premises comprised in the lease for the purpose of viewing their condition and state of repair”. This includes treating infestations of pests of any kind. Tenancy agreements will invariably have an express term that states that the tenant must give access to the landlord or their contractors in order to inspect the property or carry out maintenance and repairs.
Also, landlords aren’t liable under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 if the tenants don’t allow access to the landlord or their contractors to inspect the property’s condition and state of repair.
However, as pests can cause a lot of damage, it’s really serious if tenants won’t give access to pest control services. As well as being a breach of statute and the tenancy agreement, damage from pests can escalate significantly if not treated promptly. Because of the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, a landlord cannot force entry, unless the situation is an emergency. The only legal way to obtain access is to take out an injunction to require the tenant to do so.
Before trying to get an injunction, the landlord or agent should call the tenant to see why they won’t give access. If they won’t pick up or if they don’t have a good reason, write a formal letter to the tenant to tell them they are in breach of their obligations under section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and the tenancy agreement, and that your require access. Add that you will hold them responsible for any damage caused as a result of their failure to grant access.
In these circumstances, the landlord should consider serving a Section 21 Notice if not in a fixed term period to evict the tenant. If Section 21 is not available, the landlord can seek possession using a Section 8 Notice citing either or both of the following discretionary grounds, and provide supporting evidence of requests to access the property to diagnose and treat a pest infestation:
- Ground 12 – breach of any term of the tenancy agreement. Notice period: 2 weeks.
- Ground 13 – deterioration of the condition of the property or any of the common parts due to the tenant’s action or inaction, or someone living there, and the tenant has failed to remove that person. Notice period: 2 weeks.
>> Related Post: How to serve a valid Section 21 Notice
>> Related Post: How to evict tenants using Section 8
What are the rules for pest control in HMOs?
HMO landlords have stricter obligations than landlords of single lets. Not only may they have specific obligations in their HMO licence, the HMO Management Regulations impose the following obligations on HMO landlords and managers:
Responsibility for the common parts of HMOs
HMO managers must maintain the common parts so that they are in “good and clean decorative repair, in a safe working condition, and kept reasonably clear from obstruction”.
As well as including the kitchen, it also includes the area outside the building that belongs to the landlord (eg yards, forecourts, garden). Any passageway and staircase leading to the HMO also need to be kept “reasonably clean and free from refuse and litter”. This might include the stairs leading up to an HMO flat in an apartment building.
Many HMO landlords provide cleaners to clean the kitchen and other common parts, and put out the general refuse bins.
Duty to provide waste disposal facilities for HMOs
Regulation 9 states that the HMO manager must ensure there are “sufficient bins or other suitable receptacles are provided that are adequate for the requirements of each household occupying the HMO for the storage of refuse and litter pending their disposal.” Also, they must “make such further arrangements for the disposal of refuse and litter from the HMO as may be necessary, having regard to any service for such disposal provided by the local authority.”
Tenants in an HMO must “store and dispose of litter in accordance with the arrangements made by the manager”.
Responsibility for waste disposal ultimately stops with the HMO manager.
HMO licence conditions relating to pests
HMO licences often contain particular provisions relating to pest control. Here is an example of conditions relating to pest control for an additional licence in Lambeth:
“Where the licence holder becomes aware of a pest problem or infestation at the property he shall take steps to ensure that a treatment program is carried out to eradicate the pest infestation. Records shall be kept of such treatment programs and these must be provided to the Council within 28 days on demand.”
Tips for landlords to prevent rodent infestations
Prevention is better than cure, especially as by the time a pest control company has investigated the problem, the rats and mice may have caused considerable damage to the property.
Here are some practical tips to help landlords prevent infestations of mice and rats in their rental properties and gardens:
- Look at the exterior walls to see if there are any gaps in the mortar which need filling.
- Fill in gaps around pipes and vents.
- Seal unused pipes and drains.
- Provide suitable bins for your tenants to put rubbish into. Wheelie bins are good and most councils provide them free of charge. If there aren’t enough bins for the size of the household or HMO, supply more.
- Replace damaged bins promptly.
- Speak to your tenants if they are not putting the bins out each week, or are allowing rubbish to accumulated. Follow up after inspections to check they are handling their waste properly.
- Ensure your tenants keep the garden tidy and free of rubbish. Regular inspections will help you monitor this, and do follow up afterwards if there is debris.
- Provide your tenants with the details of the local tip and/or bulky waste collections, eg Maidstone’s bulky waste collection service.
It’s important to nip infestations in the bud, as they can quickly get out of hand. Landlords should react quickly if a tenant reports an infestation of mice, rates, maggots, bedbugs etc to diagnose the cause and eliminate the problem.
Ensuring the property is clean and in good repair at the start of a tenancy is essential. It’s important to carry out regular mid-tenancy inspections to check if there are signs of infestations or a risk of infestation. Do follow up to check that the tenants are disposing of their rubbish properly.
>> Related Post: Guide to landlords’ repairing obligations