Wasps, flies, rats, mice – it is the phone call every landlords dreads. Here, in an article first published in RPI magazine we look at the most common household pests, how to get rid of them and who picks up the bill.
Summer is now well and truly upon us. The bees are buzzing and the birds are singing – but where exactly are those bees coming from? And is that a wasp’s nest in the garden?
While unwanted pests can move into your buy-to-let home at any time of the year, calls to report insect infestations peak in the long hot days of the summer months.
And it isn’t just insects.
Infestations can take many forms, with mice, rats or even squirrels all ready and waiting to take up residence in your rental homes.
Research published by Shelter back in October 2015 estimated that nearly half a million private rented homes (one in nine) in England had problems with animal infestation.
No-one looks forwards to that call, but what do you do if a tenant rings up to report a home infested by insects or rodents?
Who is responsible for tackling the issue?
The question of who is responsible for dealing with infestations in privately rented housing depends in part on:
- Whether there is anything relevant in the tenancy agreement:The tenancy agreement may set out details on who is responsible for dealing with any infestation ormay make the landlord responsible for keeping the premises in good condition and fit to live in, which couldmean they have to deal with infestations.
- Whether the property was already infested when the tenant moved in: If the property is already infested when the tenant moves in, it is likely that the landlord will be responsible for dealing with it. In regard to furnishedproperties, landlords have a contractual duty (implied by common law) to ensure that at the start of the letting there is “nothing so noxious as to render it uninhabitable”.
- Whether the infestation may have resulted from some act of the tenant. The tenant may be responsible for dealing with the problem if the infestation was caused by something the tenant has done or failed to do; eg, not dealing properly with rubbish, not cleaning the property adequately, leaving food around or keeping pets which have fleas.
- Whether the property was in disrepair: Infestations may be the result of, or made worse by structural defects or disrepair, such as holes in external walls. Unless the disrepair has been caused by the tenant, it will usually fall to the landlord to carry out the repair and deal with the infestation.
What if we can’t agree who should pay?
The Government says landlords – or tenants for that matter – who want to establish who is responsible for dealing with a particular infestation should consider seeking specific advice from:
- The council’s Environmental Health department; an environmental health officer may be able to identify the cause of the problem and this, in turn, will help to ascertain who is responsible for removing the infestation;
- A lawyer or a Citizens Advice Bureau or a housingadviser; they may be able to establish whether there is anything relevant in the tenancy agreement, and whether the tenant might have any right to sue the landlord and/or to end the tenancy.
If the tenant denies responsibility it is worth asking the professionals who come to tackle the issue how they believe the infestation came about.
If they advise it was the tenants’ responsibility and they still refuse to pay, keep the report and make a deduction from the report at the end of the tenancy.
If they object to this and the claim goes to adjudication this will form part of the evidence for your case as the landlord.
What do I do next? Will the council help me?
Most local authorities offer some pest control services, but this will differ depending on where you live.
Their web pages will outline what they will treat – as well as what they will not treat – and outline their fees and charges. Some councils will carry out some works for free, for example treatment of rats and mice.
If they do not offer services to treat the pests you have identified, then you will need to call in a private contractor. Trade associations such as the British Pest Control Association can help find someone in your local area.
Remember, if you are organising a pest control visit you must inform the tenant – and they must also let you know if they are making the arrangements.
Pests and the law
There are a variety of laws and legislation around pest control.
All pest control work needs to be carried out in accordance with Animal Welfare Act 2006, Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996, Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
There are also ‘Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986’ to adhere to (which is being superseded eventually by the ‘Biocidal Products Regulations’) and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
Some of these laws protect some animals that could be seen as pests, but at the other end of the scale there are some pests you must, by law destroy, provided this is done in a humane way.
Bats: The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides protection for all species of bat found in the United Kingdom. It is illegal to kill, or even disturb, bats in their roosts. If bats are present, and there is a possibility of them being disturbed, you should consult the Bat Conservation Trust. They will offer advice and if required arrange for a person to visit the site and advise on the best course of action. Remember bats may only be handled by those licensed to do so.
Squirrels: Squirrels are one of the less common pests , but don’t be fooled, these cute furry creatures can cause a lot of damage. Squirrels can get inside the roof space of your home and chew woodwork and ceilings, strip the insulation from electrical wiring and tear up fibreglass insulation to form a dray. In some cases, they can even attack people. Professionals can set baited traps for the squirrels.Under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild or allow one to escape. This means if you trap one, you are obliged to humanely dispatch it. You must not let it go as this act would be illegal.
Bees: Contrary to popular belief bees aren’t protected and can be treated, however, they are endangered, so the British Pest Control Association always recommends exploring all other avenues before considering eradication. Many pest controllers do not apply bee treatments unless there’s a serious threat to human life.
Birds: The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds, their nests and eggs. However, specific exemptions permit certain species to be controlled by particular methods for specific reasons. However, the law only allows competent people such as professional pest controllers to deal with certain species that are widely accepted to be pests. You should always consult with a professional before you consider any form of bird control measures, as the list of birds that are considered pests can change on a regular basis.
The ‘Big Eight’ and how to deal with them.
The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) has identified the top eight most popular pests according to local authority call out figures (see table).
Here we look at each of them and what to do next if you find them in your rental home.
Rats and Mice
The problem:Rats and mice carry diseases and can inflict a great amount of structural damage. They can cause serious fires by gnawing away the insulation around electrical cables, floods by puncturing pipes and even death by chewing through gas pipes.
The insurance sector has estimated that rodent damage to wiring is responsible for 25% of all electrical fires in buildings. (Andrew can we use this as a pull out quote?)
Property owners have a legal obligation under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 to keep premises rat and mice free, or, if they pose a threat to health or property, to report infestations to the local authority.
Treatment:It is recommended you contact a professional pest control company, which will have access to a range of professional use rodenticides which are not available to the public.
The problem:Wasps will attack and sting, sometimes unprovoked but usually if threatened. This is a risk and a cause for concern, particularly if you have small children or pets in your rental homes.
Treatment:To get rid of wasps you do not need to remove the nest, but you do need to treat it. For treating a wasps nest make sure you use a trained professional for safety reasons.
The problem:Flies can cause food poisoning and more serious illnesses.
Treatment:Windows may be fitted with fly screens. Dustbins should be sited away from doors and windows, have tight-fitting lids and be sprayed or dusted inside and beneath with a household insecticide in warm weather. Fly killer aerosols will kill flies quickly, and sticky fly papers are also available.
The problem: Although ants aren’t thought to carry diseases they can cause nuisance and can bring in pollutants from outdoors in their search for food.
Treatment: First, find the nest entrances. These are indicated by small piles of earth pellets or can be located by watching the ants moving back and forth from nest to food.
Pouring a kettle of boiling water over the nest site is a first-aid measure. You can buy products over the counter to deal with the issue. Some cause the workers to destroy their own nests, for example, sugar based liquid bait.
The problem:They are not attracted to dirt, so a bed bug infestation is not a sign of an unclean home, nor do they carry diseases, but they do bite. Bed bug bites cause red, irritating marks/ lumps and some people develop a more severe skin reaction.
Landlords are advised to avoid buying second-hand mattresses and old beds.
If you provide a furnished home check bedrooms thoroughly between tenancies. Be prepared to throw away a mattress if it appears to be heavily infested.
Treatment:For a suspected bed bug infestation act immediately by contacting a professional pest control company. Self-treatment of a bed bug infestation is unlikely to be successful.
The problem: Cockroachescan cause food poisoning and more serious illnesses.
Treatment: Control of cockroaches is seldom easy because of the difficulty of getting the insecticide to the insect.
Professionals are trained in cockroach control and will have access to a range of professional use insecticides which are not available to the public.
However, if you decide to carry out the work yourself then you can buy amateur use insecticides from a local hardware store.
The problem:Birds carry a variety of diseases including Listeria and E-coli that can be transmitted to man not only from the droppings but also the birds themselves.
Bird droppings are acidic and can corrode/erode metals, stonework and brickwork. Nesting materials birds use can block chimneys, flues and guttering, causing possible issues with carbon monoxide and damage to buildings.
Closely linked to bird activity such as nesting are parasites such as mites, ticks, fleas and beetles. So, if you have a current or past problem with birds and have done nothing, you may find you’ll suffer from a parasite infestation too.
Treatment:Prevention can be better than a cure in the case of birds, with methods such as barriers, spikes, nets and wire used.
More recently active systems like shock strips, audible scarers and optical gels have been used.
What constitutes a pest – and what do I do about it?
The British Pest Control Association’s National Survey 2016 used local authority statistics to identify the top eight pests you’re most likely to encounter in the UK:
- rats (186,192 call-outs a year)
- mice (80,375 call-outs a year)
- wasps (77,811 call-outs a year)
- other insects, including flies (32,570 call-outs a year)
- ants (16,464)
- bed bugs (11,829 call-outs a year)
- cockroaches (5,904 call-outs a year)
- birds (3,799 call-outs a year)
Controlling pests yourself
While it can offer you peace of mind to bring and expert in if you wish you can – in some instances at least – tackle the problem yourself. Government guidelines dictate that you can:
- only trap or kill permitted animals
- use permitted methods to kill animals
- only use poison to kill the pests it’s intended for – this will be written on the packaging
- only use traps that have been approved for use with the species you want to control – you must follow the instructions for use
They advise anyone with a pest problem to take professional advice if they don’t know:
- which animals you’re permitted to trap or kill
- how to use control methods (eg traps and poisons) correctly.
The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) lists what you can use to control specific pests.