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Rats!

Where rented properties are infested with Rats or other pests it is not always the landlord’s responsibility to deal with them.

The starting point is that in relation to furnished lettings, there is at common law an implied condition that a property will be free from pest infestation at the commencement of the tenancy. If the condition is not fulfilled, the tenant is entitled to treat the letting as discharged, quit the property and sue for damages. But note that this is only applicable where the property is furnished. Many properties are not, so where does that leave us?

Landlord’s repairing obligation

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 places a positive obligation on the landlord to keep in repair the exterior, interior and installation of any property let for a term of less than 7 years. The repairing obligation looks at the physical state of the property at the outset of the tenancy. Repair means deterioration from the initial physical state and does not include inherent defects (which do not cause damage to the property), which fall outside the ambit of repair. For this reason, a tenant whose flat lacks a damp proof course is unlikely to obtain redress because this is an item that is missing and fitting it would require improvement of the property.

Rats in the property prior to the tenancy start date

Where the property is infested with Rats from the outset of the tenancy term, the landlord is under a positive obligation to address the problem. In addition to a Landlord’s Section 11 obligations the landlord also has a contractual obligation to keep the property in repair. Where Rats are in an unfurnished property it is likely that they are making their way into the property due to some disrepair e.g. holes in the structural walls. Where the landlord fails to carry out the necessary repairs, assuming the tenant has granted access, the landlord may be liable to the tenant for damages. The tenant is not automatically entitled to quit the property.

Where the property is furnished, the common law position, as stated above, will apply. That is, that the property is free from pest infestation at the commencement of the tenancy. If this condition is not fulfilled, the tenant may treat the letting as discharged, quit the property and sue for damages.

Rats in the property during the tenant’s occupation
There is no senior court decision on this specific issue. However, it is the tenant’s duty to use the rented property in a tenant-like manner. Tenant’s must not allow damage to the property and must repair damage caused, whether wilfully or negligently, by themselves, their family or guests. But beyond that the responsibility is simply to take proper care of the property, undertaking the little jobs which a reasonable tenant would do. With this in mind the county courts have held that the importation of bugs and fleas into a furnished property in large quantities by a tenant is not tenant-like use and a breach of the implied obligation. Consequently, it is more likely than not that the courts would take a similar view where Rats are present in unfurnished properties let to tenants due to the tenant’s failure to keep the property clean or to look after it in some way.
However, the landlord’s repairing obligations still apply too. If the rats are entering due to disrepair, then the landlord will be liable to resolve that disrepair and also to deal with the long-tailed consequences!

Comment
The rules differ depending on whether the property is furnished or unfurnished and whether the Rats were present from the outset of the tenancy term or during the tenant’s occupation. Accordingly, if the property is infested with Rats or other Pests readers are advised to seek legal advice prior to taking any action.

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