Rats or mice in rented accommodation
Posted on 6th June 2022 at 08:18
We often get phone calls from very distressed individuals who find that they’re sharing their home with either rats or mice, scratching sounds in the walls, gnawing and running around in the loft along with sightings of rats are increasingly common.
Rat problems in rented accommodation - who is responsible?
The Tenant or the Landlord?
The problems with rats and mice
Fear is a protective mechanism which is ingrained, buried deep in our caveman brain and for many people they’re terrified of rodents; musophobia is the term given to this and as we deal with more rat infestations than any other pest, so we understand how having any sort of rodent problem affects people.
Rats are without doubt our biggest pest animal that we deal with in Reading, and we see first-hand how they devastate people’s lives; from the damage caused, the noxious smells they leave behind and the lack of sleep they induce with their nocturnal activities, so we’ve put this guide together for those customers who as tenants, find themselves with a rodent problem.
In simple terms, if you own your property then any type of pest control and rodent eradication is down to you to organise and pay for but when that property is a leasehold flat in a large block, should you be responsible for the entire structure? Likewise, if you’re only renting the property do you have to make the necessary repairs to keep rats and mice out?
What to do if you have rats or mice inside your property
As a tenant, the detail is as always, found in the fine print and you will have signed a tenancy agreement prior to moving into the property, you should always keep your copy of this handy to check on your rights and although it may be written in a manner that suggests all faults lie with the tenant and not the landlord, this may not be the case.
Many landlords and even their letting agencies will hide behind the wording of these agreements but when it comes down to certain responsibilities, that is in fact covered by the Law. There are various Acts of Parliament that have been drawn up to address these issues and the reason that they exist is because of the exact same problems that you’re having.
The first thing to do is to go back through and read through the tenancy agreement, in the excitement of getting the keys you may not have read and fully understood the terms and conditions, so now is the time to go through the agreement again. If you have agreed to deal with pest issues as they arise, your landlord will not be sympathetic to your situation, if you have rats running around in the garden, they will expect you to deal with it yourself.
However, if you have rats living inside the loft then it maybe a situation that does lie with your landlord, and this is because one of those Acts has been written specifically for this situation.
What if your landlord is 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, when dealing with either a private landlord, letting agency or Housing Association always keep records; 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 are required to maintain their properties just like private landlords and this is covered in depth by an Act called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. This is a recent addition to the statute books and makes sure that landlords provide properties that are fit for human habitation ie: their properties must be safe from anything that could cause serious harm; mainly things such as poor electrical wiring and faulty gas appliances but it does also include having pests such as rats or mice running around inside.
This Act has some teeth and if a landlord fails to put right safety issues, they could find themselves becoming prosecuted by the Courts. This Act covers rental agreements with fixed terms of less than seven years, so it is a major piece of legislation for most tenants.
An older but still powerful piece of legislation is the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985, this Act obliges landlords to maintain the structure of the building, and this applies to fixing faulty drains which is, incidentally, where most of our internal rat infestations originate from; at my guess about 70% of our rat work starts and ends with a drain fault.
Housing laws and your rights
If these two Acts aren’t enough, you can rely on what is the mainstay of legislation regarding rats and other vermin and that is the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949.
All landowners are charged with the duty of keeping their land and property vermin free, sounds fair enough and it makes sense. Where a landlord or other property owner neglects to do this, the Council should take on the duty of enforcing the law and that they can recover expenses having done so. The reality of life in 2022 is that many Councils are strapped for cash, and they will baulk at taking on what could be a costly undertaking; however, the Council has a duty to enforce this Act and if they won’t oblige you can then refer to the Local Authority Ombudsman.
Finally, if having three Acts of Parliament weren’t enough, you can also quote the Environmental Protection Act from 1990; this gives the Local Authority the power to enter premises for the purpose of inspection and to enforce any treatment that’s is required and the best part? They only need to give the landlord 24 hours’ notice, and where there is an issue that has arisen because the landlord is not looking after the property correctly, then the Local Authority can use this Act to prosecute.
Let’s face it, Councils are reluctant to get involved with disputes in the early stages otherwise that would be the only work they’d ever get done, these Acts apply to serious, long term situations where there is a significant risk to health. In many cases the tenants can reduce their vulnerability to having any rodent problem by looking at putting into place some easy control measures.
What you can do to reduce the likely-hood of a rodent infestation
Both rats and mice will exploit faults in buildings to gain access into the interior and why would they do this? These rodents are basically scavengers and have adapted to live off the food that we leave lying around, from bird seed in a cardboard box on the shelf in the garage, to a cereal box inside a kitchen cupboard, these animals want to get inside because that’s where the food is and generally, its warm and dry.
As a tenant you are expected to maintain a clean, healthy living environment, your landlord is entrusting their property to you, and they want it kept to a reasonable level; keep the garden cut back and free from rubbish. We get called out all the time (often by 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 hide a wooden door frame which has rotted away, allowing rats to gnaw into the space occupied by the frame and from there they can climb into the cavity wall. The cavity wall leads up to the loft and so the tenant has 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 but in fairness, the tenant has stacked rubbish up against the back of the house, giving rats a source of food and a place to hide.
A situation like this can quickly lead to become a serious dispute but when you look at the route to infestation, as with everything in life a good balance needs to be achieved; the landlord wants a good tenant, and the tenant wants a good landlord and as a pest controller I can see both sides and that is why it is best to take these simple precautions:
• Keep gardens tidy and free from rubbish
• Cover any open drains to prevent leaves from falling in and blocking them; overflowing fat and waste will attract rats especially in the winter
• If you feed the birds, do so from a bird feeder and don’t throw food out onto the ground
• Keep 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
• 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 such as 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 someplace that you can call home, someplace safe, warm and comfortable and when there are rats or mice running free through the building this is hard to do, problems with rats and mice are becoming more common as the rodent population continues to rise.
The last thing that you want on top of a rodent problem, is to go to war with your landlord as you then may find yourself being asked to leave the property. We also realise from the work that we do that there are landlords out there who treat their property portfolio like a cash cow; zero money spend going into the place, but every penny taken out.
This blog serves as a guide and has been written because we often get people phoning us, explaining their situation and how bad things have gotten between themselves and their landlord. In the majority of cases there is some confusion over who is responsible for dealing with a rodent infestation, our aim with this blog is to show you the legislation that applies and how it applies.
If you’re having difficulty with your landlord always show respect in your dealings and try to get all communication via email as that way, you’ll have an audit trail should things become really serious.
Consider asking a pest controller to come out and carryout just an in-depth survey backed up with a written report; we do this a lot as its cheaper than a treatment and if we discover that the fault lies deep within the drainage system of the house, for one, no amount of poison is ever going to stop this problem, and two, the repair bill could easily run into thousands of pounds and that, is, down to the landlord to sort out.
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