Rodent problems: when it comes down to tenant vs the landlord
Posted on 29th December 2022 at 09:04
Rodent problems: when it comes down to tenant vs the landlord
Here at Maidenhead Pest Control, we often receive phone calls from distressed individuals who suddenly find themselves sharing their home with rats or mice, does scratching sounds in the walls, gnawing and something running around in the loft sound familiar?
Rats are without any doubt our main pest animal that we deal with in the area and we see first-hand how they devastate people’s lives; ranging from the damage caused, the noxious smells they leave behind and the lack of sleep they induce, rats are our biggest problem in Maidenhead.
Basically, if you own your property then any form of pest control including rodent eradication is down to you to organise and pay for which makes sense, but when that property is a leasehold flat in a large structure, should you be the one who’s responsible for the entire building? Likewise, if you’re a tenant and only renting the property, is it up to you to make the necessary repairs to keep rats and mice out?
Because of the frequency of the problem, we’ve put this guide together for those customers who as tenants, find themselves with a rodent problem.
What you should do if you have rats or mice inside your property
When you’re a tenant, the detail is in the fine print of the tenancy agreement that you signed prior to moving in, you should always keep your copy of this agreement handy to check on your rights and responsibilities, although it may be written in such a way that suggests that all faults lie with the tenant and not the landlord.
It is the case that many landlords and even some letting agencies will hide behind the wording of these agreements but when it comes down to the actual responsibilities, that is covered by the Law. There are various Acts of Parliament that have been drawn up to address these problems and the reason that these laws exist is because of the problems that you’re having.
The first thing you should do is to read through your tenancy agreement, in the excitement of getting the keys to your new home, you may not have read and fully understood the terms and conditions. If the statement says that you have agreed to deal with pest issues as they arise, your landlord may not be sympathetic to your situation, for example if you have rats running around in the garden, they may expect you to deal with it yourself. However, if you have rats living inside the loft then it maybe something that does lie with your landlord despite what the agreement says, and this is because one of those Acts has been written specifically for this situation.
What if you are a tenant of a Housing Association?
In our experience, Housing Associations cover huge numbers of properties and it’s easy to get lost in the system or fall through the cracks as you usually phone them and speak to a member of staff and not a named individual. When dealing with Housing Associations and even private landlords or letting agencies, always keep some form of record. If you can, use emails so that you have a copy of the communication as this will help you should you have to enlist the support of the Councils’ Environmental Health Department.
Housing Associations, just like private landlords are required to maintain their properties to a suitable standard, and this is covered in depth by an Act called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. This Act is a recent addition to the statute books and makes sure that all landlords provide properties that are fit for human habitation; their properties must be maintained to a standard where they are safe from anything that could cause serious harm; things such as poor electrical wiring and faulty gas appliances but it also includes having pests such as rats or mice. This is a new Act and for once it has some teeth: if a landlord fails to put right safety issues, they could find themselves being prosecuted by the Courts. This Act covers rental agreements with fixed terms of less than seven years, so this is a major piece of legislation for most tenants.
There is another, older but still powerful piece of legislation that covers the maintenance of buildings and this is the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, this Act obliges landlords to maintain the structure of the building; things like fixing faulty drains. Most of our internal rat infestations originate from the underground drainage system; at a rough guess about 70% of our rat work starts and ends with a faulty drain.
If these two Acts don’t provide enough protection, you can rely on what is the mainstay of UK legislation that deals with rats and other types of vermin, and this is the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949. This Act simply requires all landowners to keep their land and property vermin free which sounds fair enough and logical. When a landlord or property owner neglects to do this, the Council has the legal duty of enforcing the law.
The reality of life today, is that many Councils are strapped for cash, and they will try to avoid any measures that lead to a cost, however, this Act requires the Council to take action and if they won’t then you can refer them to the Local Authority Ombudsman.
Finally, if having these three Acts of Parliament aren’t enough to persuade your landlord to take action, you can quote the Environmental Protection Act from 1990; this gives your Local Authority the power to enter premises for the purpose of inspection and to enforce any treatment that’s required. The best part of this Act states that the Council only needs to give 24 hours’ notice although you may need professional evidence of the problem to get this action.
The reality is that many Councils are reluctant to get involved with these disputes in the early stages because that would be the only work they’d ever get done, these Acts really apply to serious, long-term situations where there is a significant risk to human health. In many cases, the tenants can reduce their vulnerability to having any rodent problems by looking at putting into place some easy pest control measures.
What you can do to help yourself
Rats and mice will exploit any structural faults in buildings to gain access into the interior because these rodents are scavengers, they have evolved to live off the food that we leave lying around, from a box of bird seed in a cardboard box on the shelf in the garage, to a packet of biscuits inside a kitchen cupboard, these animals want to get inside because that’s where the food is and generally its warmer and dryer than outside.
As a tenant, your landlord expects you to maintain a clean, healthy living environment, after all your landlord is entrusting their property to you, and they want it kept to a reasonable level. Unfortunately, we get called out (often by the tenants) to internal rat problems and we find that the garden has become a wasteland, bags and bags of rubbish, sometimes kitchen waste, long grass and even thickets of brambles. One scenario that we attended at a property in Taplow, was down to a wooden door frame which had rotted away unnoticed because it way hidden by rubbish, this allowed rats to gnaw into the space occupied by the frame and from there they could climb into the cavity wall. The cavity wall leads straight up to the loft and so the tenant had called us out to deal with the noises coming from the roof at night, the problem is one which is down to the landlord to resolve because of the rotten doorframe but in fairness, the tenant had stacked domestic rubbish up against the back of the house, which gave rats a source of food and a place to hide.
A situation like this can quickly become a serious dispute; the tenant blames the landlord for the doorframe and the landlord blames the tenant because of the rubbish. As with everything in life a degree of balance needs to be achieved, your landlord wants a good tenant, and you want a good landlord. As a pest controller I can see both sides and that is why it is best to take these simple precautions and be a good tenant:
• Keep the garden tidy and free from rubbish
• Cover any open drains with mesh or a leaf protector to prevent leaves from falling in and blocking them, because overflowing fat and waste will attract rats especially in the winter months
• If you want to feed the birds, do so from a bird feeder and don’t throw food out onto the ground as this attracts rats into the garden
• Keep all bird food in a strong, secure container, preferably inside the house and not in an old shed which maybe easily accessed by mice and rats
• Don’t leave bags of kitchen waste on the ground, if you have a bin put it in there and if the bin is broken, then replace it – it is your rubbish
• Pets such as rabbits and especially chickens must be carefully looked after; chickens attract rats like nothing else on earth, rats will burrow under coups to get at the feed
• Consider doing some minor repairs yourself, for example if a new kitchen has been fitted and the old external pipe hole has not been filled in, either stuff it up with some chicken wire or get hold of some mortar and fill the hole yourself. A simple act like this can save you the misery of having rats inside your home.
Ultimately you want to live in a nice home, someplace safe, warm and comfortable and when there are rats, free running through the building this is hard to do. The last thing that you want on top of a rat problem is to go to war with your landlord as you then may find yourself being asked to leave. We also realise from the work that we do, that there are some landlords out there who treat their property portfolio like a cash cow; zero money spend going into the place, but every penny taken out as profit.
This blog serves as a basic guide to some of your rights and has been written because we often get people phoning us, they explain their situation and how bad things have gotten between themselves and their landlord. In a lot of these cases there is some confusion over who is responsible for dealing with a rodent infestation, our aim with this blog is to show you what legislation applies and how it works.
If you’re having difficulty with your landlord, always show respect in your dealings with them and try to get all communication via email, so that way, you’ll have an audit trail should things become really serious. Consider asking a pest controller to come out and carryout a detailed survey backed up with a written report; we do this a lot as its cheaper than a treatment.
Faults that lie deep within the drainage system of the house are major structural problems, where no amount of poison put down, is ever going to stop the issue and secondly, the repair bill could easily run into thousands of pounds and that is down to the landlord to sort out.
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