Pest infestations in a home can be incredibly distressing for everyone. There is also, often some confusion as to whose responsibility it is to resolve a pest problem when the property is rented – landlord or tenant?
In most cases the responsibility is shared somewhere between them. Landlords have a duty of care to keep their property free from pests and in a state of good repair that does not attract, or make it easy for pests to occupy a property. However tenants also have a responsibility to ensure foodstuffs and pet feed is not left lying around and rubbish is being disposed of properly, so that pests are not attracted to a property.
Prevention is always better than cure and for landlords a property that is uninhabitable whilst infested will have financial implications. There are practical steps landlords can take to help prevent a pest infestation and having an understanding of some of the pests you and your tenants might face can help with prevention and early detection of a pest issue, so that it can be resolved quickly before it can spread.
Mice and rats
Mice and rats are great opportunists and will infest any property given the chance. High density and terraced housing can be very challenging when treating rodent activity, as rats and mice can easily pass from adjoining properties. If rodents are in your property, then your tenants are coming into contact with a public health pest that has the potential to carry a number of diseases and pathogens. Not only will rodents damage items to get to foodstuffs, they will also damage wood, brick, plastic and mild steel as gnawing is used to control their incisor teeth, so water tanks, gas pipes and electrical cabling can be commonly damaged.
- Fit bristle (or brush) strips to the bottom of doors to help prevent entry, especially where the door fit may not be snug. They may also use cat flaps to get in and will enlarge any gaps by gnawing to gain entry.
- Seal holes around existing or new pipes; also check that old pipework holes are sealed too.
- Cover air bricks and vents with fine galvanised wire mesh (especially if they are damaged) to allow air to circulate but prevent mice from entering.
- If possible avoid plants growing up the sides of the property. Vines, shrubs or over hanging branches can be used by rodents to get onto roofs or find gaps further up the building to enter.
- Make sure there is suitable provision to store rubbish securely, in sturdy bins with tight fitting lids whilst waiting collection.
- Rats are known to swim up damaged sewer pipes. Use tightly fitting metal grates or screens to cover drains, especially in basement areas. Regularly check pipe work and ensure any breakage is fixed immediately.
Fleas have the ability to diapause (go into suspended animation) meaning fleas can lay dormant for many months in a property awaiting a suitable source to feed upon. After a long period being dormant, fleas emerge from cocoons ravenous, and feed with vigour on anybody (person or pet) present as they search out a blood meal. Flea eggs can become hidden in carpets, rugs, bedding or gaps between floorboards. They are tiny (only about 0.5mm long), oval and white. This makes them almost impossible to see against rough surfaces and materials.
- Flea larvae feed on organic matter in carpets, bedding & furnishings. Try and remove any potential food supply with regular vacuuming.
- Inspect carpets and flooring carefully for signs of eggs or ‘flea dirt’. If the previous tenants had pets the flea larvae might be dormant in carpeting or soft furnishings.
- If pets are in the property check them regularly using flea combs, carefully checking for fine black droppings. This is ‘flea dirt’ or adult flea faeces and looks like ground black pepper.
These pests can be extremely problematic in the rental properties, especially if a building has a number of tenants over a period of time. Bed bugs are insects that feed on human blood and usually live around bedroom areas. They are flat, oval insects that are designed to hide in the smallest crack or crevice. Growing quickly in size as they feed, and expand beyond their adult apple-pip size. Bed bugs don’t fly or jump but can crawl long distances in search of a feed. They are often unsuspectingly brought into properties amongst clothing, suitcases and furniture. Once established, they can be incredibly difficult to deal with due to their ability to hide in inaccessible locations, and survive without feeding for many months.
- Bed bugs are usually brought into a property on clothing, or in luggage or furniture, often as a result of staying in infested accommodation. So check bedding and room furniture for bed bug signs such as small, dark bloodspots on bedding or dark stains/ smears on the mattress and surrounding area from bed bug excreta.
- Check furniture before it’s brought into the property for any signs of bed bugs, particularly if it is second hand or vintage.
Good practice is to make sure that your property is pest free, furnished or not, before a tenant moves in. Setting out your pest policy in the tenancy agreement, so that the tenant knows the position in advance will also help make things clear. The National Landlords Association can offer further advice.
The best way to control a pest infestation if it does happen, is to maintain close working relationships between tenant and landlord, ensuring that if needed any pest control contractor used is reputable, has insurance and is professionally qualified.