Pest control in rental properties

Is a landlord responsible for pest control, or a tenant?

It’s a question that gets asked a lot, and causes more than its fair share of confusion. After all, if you’re not living somewhere, a sudden visitation from a few hundred ants can’t really be your fault, can it?

The rule of thumb for a pest infestation that occurs when a tenancy is already underway relates to your repairing obligations as a landlord; if the pests got in due to a problem with the structure or exterior of your property, it’ll be your responsibility to deal with. If, on the other hand, your tenant is getting night-time visits from a hungry fox because they’ve let rubbish build up (for example), they’ll have to deal with the problem and the cost.

Where there’s a doubt, either you or your tenant might contact your local authority’s environmental health officer (EHO), who will decide whose responsibility it is. If it’s still ambiguous – such as if there are bed bugs, which only come out of the woodwork when there is a fresh tenant to eat – the EHO may well declare it your responsibility, so be prepared for this.

If you are responsible for removing the problem…

If, as per chapter two of the Housing Act 2004, the EHO is satisfied that the infestation presents a danger to the tenant or any visitor, you could well be served with an improvement notice and face further prosecution if you don’t comply with it. As rodents and other pests can damage the structure of the property and carry any number of nasty diseases, it’s best to deal with an infestation sharpish.

It’s worth checking if your local authority offers pest control services, as they’re likely to be cheaper than a private company. If not, visit the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) to search for accredited professionals in your area.

Alternatively, if it’s just a case of putting down some poison or setting a trap, you could do this yourself. Traps and rat/mouse poison can be purchased inexpensively online or from most DIY stores – just make sure you follow the instructions on the package. If your tenant has small children or pets, then you should be especially careful that only the intended victims will be exposed to the trap or poison. If in any doubt whatsoever, call in a professional.

If pests are present at the start of the tenancy

If the problem was present before the tenant moved in, dealing with it is likely to be your responsibility. If the property is furnished, common law implied that it was habitable as let; therefore, if there are pests when they move in, your tenant may be able to declare the tenancy null and void and move back out.

If the property is a house in multiple occupation (HMO)

HMO regulations mean you have various obligations, including making sure an HMO property is habitable when you let it. This includes making sure that the property is safe and free from infestation. You also take responsibility for the shared areas and facilities.

In summary

Because of the potentially serious nature of pest infestations, there are three rules a landlord should generally follow:

  1. Whoever’s responsible, sort it quick! Even if it’s your tenant’s responsibility, if they’re procrastinating, it may be better to fix the problem yourself and recoup the expense later. Remember that your tenancy agreement should require the tenant to keep the property clean, so if their negligence is attracting vermin and various other nasties, you can draw their attention to the contract they signed.
  2. Deep-clean the property between tenancies. Address each and every problem that you can and keep a record of it. Using professionals gives you a good defence if required to prove that you did everything you could before the new tenants moved in.
  3. If in doubt, consult a professional. This could be an EHO, a pest control professional or the local authority’s tenant relation officer (TRO) – if you’re unsure how to deal with a pest problem, whose responsibility it is or how to prevent it in the future, these are the people to ask.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.