Dealing with infestations and pests in rental property

Infestations of vermin which break out in rented property need to be tackled urgently. Whether it's mice, rats, cockroaches or other pests, it's vital that tenants and landlords understand their respective rights and responsibilities.
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If the vermin infestation exists prior to the commencement of a furnished tenancy, the landlord is responsible for tackling it; this duty does not apply if the property was rented unfurnished.

Infestations which have been caused as a result of disrepair to a rented property (eg rodents are getting in through holes in the wall or floor) are the responsibility of the landlord to tackle. They are also responsible for remedial work if the infestation results in further disrepair (eg damage to electrical wire or skirting boards).

The tenancy agreement may also refer to responsibilities of tenants and landlords regarding pest infestations.

If an infestation is the result of actions (or inaction) by a tenant, the responsibility of dealing with the situation will generally fall to the tenant. For example, if cockroaches have established themselves in a property due to excessive mess or food rubbish not being disposed of, this will need to be dealt with by the tenant.

If the infestation is due to disrepair which occurs subsequent to commencement of tenancy, tenants will generally be responsible for notifying the landlord of the disrepair (to give them a chance to fix the problem before an infestation develops).

Further obligations may be set out in the tenancy agreement.

Council pest control services will normally be able to tackle vermin infestations which have been reported by local authority/council tenants.

Private tenants can also complain about vermin in private homes to the local council; if an infestation is considered a health hazard (eg under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System) and is classed as a statutory nuisance, local authorities have powers to compel landlords to take action. They can also take action against neighbouring properties if they are the source of the problem.

In cases where pests and vermin pose a serious health risk, tenants can make a homeless application to the council if they feel they are unable to remain in the property.

If a pest infestation is due to disrepair, it may be possible for tenants to claim compensation in respect of damage to possessions or personal injury. If a tenant also needs to spend time away from the property due to fumigation, it may be possible to claim a proportionate reduction in rent.

If a landlord refuses to tackle an infestation and the tenant decides to pay for pest control services, it may be possible to claim this back - but this will depend on the individual circumstances.

As discussed above, tenants are generally responsible for dealing with any vermin infestations which they have caused. If a tenant fails to tackle the issue, a landlord can potentially withhold a relevant portion of the tenancy deposit (ie costs for contracting pest control services).

This information only applies in Scotland.

Where the council refuses to take action, the tenants may be able to bring an action in the Sheriff Court. This can however be very time and money consuming.

Tenants may also be able to challenge the council’s decision by judicial review. As this is a very complex process, it is best to seek further legal advice.

Lastly, tenants may be able to lodge a complaint with the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO).  A complaint can be brought to the SPO where a tenant feels they have suffered hardship or injustice because the council has:

  • provided a poor service

  • delivered a service badly

  • failed to provide a service at all

A complaint is brought to the SPSO by completing a complaint form available online on the SPSO website. This can only be done if the tenant has first complained to the council.

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