Pests in your property – whose responsibility is it?

Posted: 27th Jun 2015

Nobody wants them, of course, but if you have pests in the property you let or the accommodation you are renting, who is responsible for that infestation and who needs to do something about it?

In fact, in the case of buy to let property, the respective responsibilities of landlord and tenant are anything but clear.

While this is an old article on the website Property 118, the issues mentioned within it still remain the same:

  • as the landlord of the property, you are responsible for the structure and fabric of the building, toilet facilities and drainage, utilities and any fittings;
  • this basic responsibility is likely to be made clear in the tenancy agreement and is, of course, the basis on which insurance for landlords makes provision for safeguarding the structure and fabric of the let property;
  • if pests are getting into the let property because of holes in the wall, damaged sewer pipes, or some other structural defect, therefore, it is the landlord’s responsibility to tackle the pest problem by repairing the building;
  • you might need to fix pipes, brickwork, doors or skirting boards if mice or rats have chewed through them, for example;
  • you have a particular responsibility for repairing as a matter of urgency any damage that has been done to electrical wiring – failure to do so might not only land you in trouble with Health and Safety legislation but might even invalidate your insurance;
  • if the infestation of pests is caused by the tenant’s lifestyle or living habits – such as failing to deal properly with rubbish or not clearing away food scraps – the responsibility is the tenant’s and he or she must deal with it.

Constructive notice

You have a legal responsibility for ensuring that any furnished letting is fit to live in at the beginning of a tenancy and this includes it being free of pests and vermin.

Even if the property is let unfurnished, however, it may make sense to ensure that any problems have been tackled, so that it might be clearer that tenants take their share of the blame if problems subsequently appear.

The housing charity Shelter points out that in some tenancy agreements the landlord undertakes to keep the accommodation in good condition or at least fit to live in – in which case the landlord continues to have that responsibility once the tenancy has started. As the charity reminds readers, however, tenancy agreements do not have to carry such an undertaking from the landlord.

Health matters

Where any infestation may be identified as a health risk to tenants even greater care clearly needs to be taken.

Pests such as cockroaches, mice, and rats all pose a serious threat to health – so serious, in fact, that tenants have the right to inform the local authority’s environmental health department, who are typically then responsible for dealing with and eradicating the problem. The local council has a duty of doing so.

Claims for compensation

Tenants’ problems with pests may lead to their holding you negligent in your duty of care and you may need to rely on the provisions of your landlord insurance for indemnity – a subject on which we may be able to advise here at Cover4LetProperty.

The basis for such claims is likely to lie with the tenant’s assertion that any pest control for which you responsible and have failed to take has led to their contracting a health condition or had their property damaged as a result.

Depending on the seriousness of such allegations, claims for compensation may be very significant and you might be glad of the £1 million or so landlord’s liability indemnity that typically forms part and parcel of buy to let insurance.