Are Landlords Responsible for Pest Control?

mariam-abu-hussein
Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 6th November 2023

From bed bugs to rats and mice, dealing with pests in a rented property can be an unwelcome experience for both landlords and tenants. In the UK, the question of who is responsible and liable for pest control is common, so it's important for both parties to understand their roles and what they are accountable for. 

are-landlords-responsible-for-pest-control

In this article, we’ll establish: 

  • If, and when, landlords are responsible for pest control;

  • If, and when, tenants are responsible for pests; 

  • Possible legal claims relating to pest control in rented housing

  • How to deal with pests in rented housing. 

In the UK, landlords have a legal obligation to make sure a residential property is fit to live in throughout the length of the tenancy. 

While this does extend to pest control, it’s also important to note that tenants also have a responsibility when it comes to pests and pest control. 

Are landlords responsible for pest control?

Landlords are responsible for pest control if: 

  • An infestation was caused by repairs they should have fixed (e.g. cracks in the walls); 

  • The property was already infested when tenants moved in;

  • The tenancy agreement clearly states that they are responsible for pest control.

In addition, landlords' responsibility also hinges on tenants reporting pest issues. It's important for renters to reach out to their landlords as soon as any problem arises, ideally with photos as proof, to ensure that an infestation is addressed quickly. 

Delayed repairs and pest control

Landlords have a legal obligation to maintain and repair their properties, ensuring they are safe and liveable. If a pest infestation is a direct result of a repair issue that the landlord should have addressed, it's generally the landlord's responsibility to deal with pest control

Delayed repairs can lead to infestations in several ways:

  • Structural issues: When a property has structural problems like cracks, holes, or damaged roofing, it can create entry points for pests. For example, rats and mice can squeeze through small openings, and damaged roof tiles can let birds or insects inside.

  • Moisture problems: Leaky pipes, faulty plumbing, or a damaged roof can result in moisture buildup. Damp and humid environments are attractive to pests like termites, which thrive in such conditions and can damage wood structures.

  • Broken seals and screens: If windows, doors, or screens are damaged or do not close properly, they can allow pests to enter easily. Insects like mosquitoes or flies can get inside, as can larger pests like rodents.

  • Poor maintenance: Failure to maintain a property can lead to overgrown vegetation, stagnant water, and clutter that create attractive habitats for pests. Overgrown gardens can hide pests like rodents, while stagnant water can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

  • Food waste: If there are issues with bins, food waste can accumulate around the property. This serves as a food source for various pests, including rodents and insects, which can then infest the property.

If a tenant complains about a pest infestation to the council and the landlord goes on to evict them, this could be seen as a revenge eviction, which is unlawful.

What should a landlord do in the event of a pest problem?

If a landlord is responsible for pest control in the event of an infestation, it is their responsibility to:

  1. Undertake all the repairs which led to the problem;

  2. Instruct pest control services to deal with the infestation.

It is also the landlord's responsibility to pay for the repairs and pest control services if they are responsible for dealing with it.

Are tenants responsible for pest control? 

Tenants are usually responsible for pest control when the infestation is a result of their actions. For example, if the tenant doesn’t keep the property clean or introduces pests, they may be held responsible for pest control expenses.

Common scenarios include: 

Poor housekeeping

If pests like cockroaches, rodents, or ants infest a property due to unclean living conditions, like leaving food out or not properly storing rubbish.

Bringing in pests

If a tenant introduces pests, knowingly or unknowingly, such as by bringing in used furniture or belongings that are infested, they may be responsible. Similarly, if they don't treat their pets accordingly and a pest problem is the result, it may be their responsibility to sort it out.

Failing to report pest problems

Tenants are often expected to report pest issues promptly. If they delay reporting an infestation, and it worsens as a result, they may be held responsible.

Refusing access for pest control measures

If a landlord arranges for pest control services, but the tenant unreasonably refuses to grant access to the property, they might be considered responsible for the ongoing infestation.

Damage to property

Damage to the property that creates entry points for pests, such as breaking window screens or leaving doors open, could lead to tenant responsibility.

Breach of lease terms

If the tenancy agreement explicitly states that tenants are responsible for pest control, or that they must maintain a clean and pest-free living environment, they are legally obliged to fulfil those terms, otherwise they are in breach of their tenancy agreement.

In most cases, it's important for tenants to inform their landlord about pest issues as soon as possible, and cooperate in resolving them. 

Pest control and tenancy agreements

The terms of the tenancy agreement play a significant role in determining who is responsible for pest control.

Some tenancy agreements explicitly state whether the landlord or tenant should address pest issues.

Both parties should review the agreement before signing it to fully understand their respective responsibilities.

When are pests classified as a problem?

Pests are typically considered a problem when they pose a health and safety risk, or when they significantly affect the tenant's enjoyment of the property. The severity and nature of the infestation may influence who should address the issue.

Common situations when pests are considered a problem:

  • Health and safety risks;

  • Structural damage;

  • Large scale infestations;

  • Inability to enjoy or even live in the property.

What should tenants do if landlords don't deal with pests

If a pest infestation poses a significant risk and the landlord is unresponsive, tenants can seek assistance from their local council to address pest issues. Councils and the Environmental Health Department have a responsibility to ensure that rented properties in their area meet certain standards of health and safety. 

Make a complaint to the council

First, tenants should contact the Environmental Health Department of their local council. Upon receiving the tenant's complaint, the council will arrange an inspection of the property to assess the issue and determine its cause. If the landlord is found responsible, they will be legally required to make necessary improvements within a specified timeframe.

If the landlord ignores these requirements or refuses to take action, they may face large fines, and in the worst-case scenario, authorities could order the property's closure if it falls below minimum living standards. 

Local authorities can also provide assistance when pests originate from sources beyond the tenant's control, such as neighbouring properties or sewage issues. Pest problems can swiftly escalate into a public nuisance, emphasising the importance of seeking professional help without delay.

Who pays for pest control services in rented properties?

In general, if the pest issue is a result of the landlord's failure to address necessary repairs or standard of living, the landlord should cover the cost.

However, if the infestation is due to the tenant's actions or negligence, the tenant may be responsible for the expenses.

Can a tenant withhold rent because of pests?

Tenant's can't, and should not, withhold rent because of a pest problem. Doing so could give a landlord grounds to take legal action against them, such as issuing a Section 8 Notice for breach of tenancy.

If a tenant is sure they are not responsible for an infestation, they should contact their landlord in writing to request pest control and any necessary repairs needed to future proof the property.

Landlords may consider the possibility of reducing the current month's rent, particularly if fumigation, a process that typically takes 3 days to a week and involves using chemical smoke to kill insects or rodents, is required.

In some circumstances, tenants may also be able to claim compensation for poor repairs and conditions.

Can landlords claim tax expenses for dealing with pest problems?

Landlords may be able to claim tax deductions for pest control expenses if they are deemed a necessary and reasonable cost related to property maintenance. However, it's advisable for landlords to consult with a tax professional or accountant to determine eligibility and the specific tax implications.

Dealing with pests in rented properties can be distressing and costly. The best way to deal with this kind of problem is to communicate clearly and try to solve the problem quickly before it gets out of control.

However, sometimes disputes may arise around who is responsible for dealing with pest control, or one party may take action which another doesn't see as fair or reasonable (such as an unlawful eviction or withholding rent). In these cases, it's really important for both landlords and tenants to seek help from an experienced solicitor who can provide advice specific to the case.

If you are in dispute with a landlord or tenant, our landlord and tenant lawyers can help you:

  • Understand the strength of your case;

  • Make a decision on what legal action you should take;

  • Help with paperwork (such as drafting eviction notices or making a compensation claim);

  • Get the problem sorted quickly.

For more information and help with landlord and tenant law, tell us about your case to get a free assessment and no-obligation quote to work with our trusted team of solicitors and lawyers.

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