Mouse in the House – Landlord’s Responsibility?

Just who is responsible for pests in the property during the tenancy?

If the pest problem is caused by disrepair (e.g. holes in floor permitting mice to enter property) then it is the landlord’s responsibility. If the pest problem is caused by the actions of the tenant after the start of the tenancy it is the tenant’s responsibility unless there is some alternative provision in the tenancy agreement.

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 this case 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. Failure to do so might involve serious consequences.

More on this..

Shelter’s view on the matter here

Law firm Painsmith’s view on the matter here

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