Bed Bugs and Landlord’s Liability

A recent story on the BBC News website highlights that bed bugs are back and spreading in the USA and Western Europe. We are often asked about pests and who is responsible for their eradication.

During the tenancy if pests arise it will normally be up to the tenant to deal with them (after all the property has been let to them) unless there is some alternative provision in the tenancy agreement. If the cause of the pests is disrepair at the property (for example mice entering through holes in the external walls) then the landlord may also have some responsibility to resolve the issue.

Where pests are present at the start of the tenancy the issue is more complex. A landlord does not ordinarily give a warranty to a tenant that the property is pest free and habitable at the outset of the tenancy. Therefore, it is debatable whether a landlord is necessarily liable for the presence of pests in a property at the start of a tenancy. However, where a property is let furnished a warranty is given that the property is pest-free at the outset of the tenancy (although no warranty is given that it will stay that way) and where a tenant discovers that a furnished property, as a whole, is infested they may be able to declare the tenancy repudiated, move out, and sue for damages following the principles laid down in Smith v Marrable. However, in this case the landlord was clearly refusing to deal with the issue and so it must be doubted whether the same actions could be taken if the landlord was unaware of the infestation and then took all reasonable steps to deal with it on it being brought to his attention. It should also be noted that in Smith the whole property was infested with rats and so the fact that bed bugs were present in a bed would not necessarily be sufficient to allow the tenant to claim repudiation.

If the property is an HMO then the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations will apply. These create a prosecutable offence if the property is not clean at start of tenancy and it may be the case that a Court would hold that the definition of clean should include freedom from pests. However, this has not been tested to our knowledge.

Where tenants import fleas of bugs into a property then the Courts have held that this is a breach of the tenant’s implied obligation to use the property in a tenant-like manner.

In short, all landlords should do their utmost to ensure that there are no pests in a property at the outset of a tenancy. Using a professional firm may give the landlord some fallback should pests be found later. Failure to do so might involve serious consequences.


  • Stephen O'Neill 22nd September 2010 at 11:04 am

    I think that must be right but it seems difficult to draw a distinction or principle between a house let furnished or unfurnished. Suppose the pesky bugs infested the whole house, it would be very much like the case of fumes arising from a faulty fire or heating system at the time of the demise, and thus infecting the whole house and preventing peaceful occupation, and on that view it might amount to a defence as a total failure of consideration, preventing any meaningful occupation for the purpose of the tenancy agreement. A tenant, of course, could not be entitled to treat as repudiated a tenancy agreement merely because there were a few bugs in the property, which might easily be got rid of. On the other hand, if it was infested in an extraordinary degree, he is surely not bound to take any extraordinary means for their extermination. Is the question, then, one of degree?

  • Darren Groves 12th March 2011 at 2:45 pm

    As a pest controller I always come across the argument between landlord and tenant of neither claiming responsibility for any types of infestation.
    Could there not be a requirement where as when a property becomes empty it is required to have an inspection before a tenant moves in if this property is to be rented and at the end of a tenancy another inspection is carried out to ensure the property remains pest free. Would this not solve many disputes? As to internal pests such as bedbugs, fleas ect.

  • Bed Bug disputes I see monthly between tenant and landlord, usually I find the tenant will be responsible if they have lived in the property for more than a few months then report the problem and if they were already there then they would have been bitten straight away.

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