Probably due to the current hot weather we are receiving quite a few calls on the helpline about pests and who is responsible for eradicating them. Unfortunately, the answer is not as straightforward as might be hoped.
A landlord has a common law duty to ensure that furnished property is free from pests at the commencement of any tenancy. Where the landlord fails to comply with this duty a tenant may quit the property, ending the tenancy, and sue for damages. However, it is important to stress that this only applies to furnished property and the infestation must exist at the commencement of the tenancy. It must also be an infestation of the property and not just one small part of it.
Landlord’s repairing obligations
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 implies a clause within tenancy agreements requiring the landlord to ensure the exterior, interior and installations of a property are kept in repair where the tenancy term is for less than 7 years. The obligation applies to the physical state of the property at the commencement of the tenancy term. It is again important to state that this obligation is to keep in repair and does not apply to inherent defects such as a lack of damp proofing.
In addition to a landlord’s implied obligation under s11 they can also be under a further contractual obligation (pursuant to the terms of most tenancy agreements) to keep a property in repair.
These repairing obligations also relate to pests as, where a property has a pest infestation due to a lack of repair at it is the landlord’s responsibility to repair the property and eradicate the pests. If a landlord is granted access but fails to address the pest infestation they could be liable to the tenant for damages.
The landlord may also be contacted by the local environmental health officer demanding that pests are dealt with. This can happen under the HHSRS, which is part of the Housing Act 2004, or under the Environmental Protection Act if the infestation is hazardous to health. Where an environmental health officer believes the infestation is serious they can intervene at the landlord’s cost and address the infestation. Failing to deal with this kind of intervention can also lead to prosecution in the criminal courts and claims by the tenant for repayment of rent paid.
Tenants are under a common law and often contractual obligation to use the property in a tenant like manner. This means that where damage is caused wilfully, accidentally, or negligently by them or their house guests it is usually the tenant’s responsibility to repair. Therefore, where pests enter the property due to the tenant’s usage it is usually their responsibility to eradicate the infestation. We are now in the holiday period therefore, tenants returning from holiday who inadvertently bring back bed bugs will be responsible for their eradication.
The landlords’ and tenants’ obligations differ depending on whether the property is furnished or unfurnished and whether the infestation is caused by the landlord or by the tenant. Where parties find themselves in any difficulty advice should be sought prior to any action taken.