What to do about pests
Most landlords have at some point or other faced the problem of mice, rats and other pests in their rental properties. In the first of a new in-depth question and answer series, Richard Price advises on the respective responsibilities of landlords and tenants to prevent pests, and what to do if your property has a pest problem.
Q. What are the main pests landlords should be aware of?
A. Richard Price: Pests commonly found in this country include insects such as fleas, bed bugs, cockroaches, ants and wasps, as well as mice, rats, pigeons, foxes, and even squirrels. Mice and rats are probably the most common, although the NLA’s Advice Line has taken calls over the years about most of the above.
Q. What are the respective responsibilities of landlords and tenants in relation to pests?
A. RP: As a landlord, you would be expected, as far as possible, to keep your property free from pests and in a way that neither attracts them nor makes it easy for them to occupy the property. The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 is still in force and you could be served with a statutory notice to eradicate the pests if an infestation at your property is causing a problem for tenants or neighbours. If your property is infested and deemed to be in a ‘verminous condition’ you could also be obliged to take action to remove the risk under Public Health laws.
These notices could be served on the tenants if it is deemed to be their responsibility, being caused by their lifestyle or actions, for example
by leaving food lying around on surfaces or failing to dispose properly of waste. If the tenant who caused the problem has moved out, the landlord will usually be obliged to eradicate the pests before the next tenant moves in. If the problem only became apparent after new tenants moved in, but it was obvious that it wasn’t their fault, again, the landlord would be expected to sort it out.
In addition to this, the Housing Act 2004 introduced the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) as a means of assessing potential hazards in accommodation. Of these, the Domestic Hygiene, Pests and Refuge hazard deals with:
- Poor design, layout and construction meaning that a dwelling cannot be readily kept clean and hygienic
- Access into, and harborage within the dwelling, for pests
- Inadequate and unhygienic provision for storing and disposal of household waste. If inspectors consider there is sufficient evidence of a problem, they may ask the landlord to rectify it under this legislation.
Q. What steps can landlords take to prevent pests infesting their property?
A. RP: Prevention is better than cure, as an infestation can cost landlords dear in terms of callouts from pest control companies and lost rent if the property is uninhabitable for any period of time due to a serious infestation.
Practical steps landlords can take to avoid pests include:
- Making sure the layout of the property makes it easy to keep clean, and prevent build up of dirt and dust that could enable organisms to multiply.
- Areas intended for the personal washing sanitation or for food storage, preparation and cooking should be capable of being maintained in a hygienic condition.
- The outside of the property should be free of cracks and unprotected holes. Grilles should be used to protect breaches of the walls where these are necessary such as for ventilation.
- Spaces under floors, roof spaces or service ducting should be effectively sealed off from the living area, although there should be access in case an infestation does occur.
- There should be suitable provision for storing refuse, both inside and when awaiting collection or disposal outside the property.
Q. If an infestation occurs, what should landlords do?
A. RP: Call the local council first, as they often have a pest control section and may deal with the problem for a little or no fee. Failing that, use a reputable company to sort it out.
The British Pest Control Association (www.bpca.org.uk/; tel: 01332 294288) represents commercial pest control companies and includes a directory of members.