Pest problems can be very distressing – more so for tenants who have to rely on their landlord to respond quickly and organise the necessary help to get rid of them. What can be done if a landlord doesn’t react? Is it possible to hit them in the pocket by withholding rent, or is that a bad idea?
If a rented property has pest problems such as rodents or insects, then it’s basically the landlord’s responsibility to deal with it. That said, it may depend on the exact wording of the tenancy agreement.
Then again, in some cases of pest infestation it’s the fault of the tenant. For example, if food has been carelessly disposed of, or rubbish has been allowed to get out of control, then the landlord could hardly be blamed.
How to Prove Responsibility
If there are clearly vulnerabilities in the property allowing pests access, then the landlord should rectify them and have the pests removed. Holes in fences and walls are obvious problems, but if it’s not altogether clear where problems lie then a local authority environmental health officer could visit and identify the sources.
They should only be called in if there is a dispute with the landlord as there may be a charge for this service.
Students go on ‘Rent Strike’
In response to not being informed of noisy building works taking place nearby and the sighting of mice and rats in the property, students living in accommodation run by UCL (University College, London) in North London’s Kentish Town stopped paying their rent.
Despite being threatened with eviction by the university, the students held firm. Not only was the rent waived – they were also awarded compensation totalling £300,000, with 238 students each being given nearly £1,200, which is the equivalent to nine weeks rent.
Students at other UCL accommodation in Bloomsbury also won compensation to the tune of £100,000, and some students at SOAV (School of Oriental and African Studies) based at accommodation in King’s Cross threatened to withhold rent due to rodent and cockroach infestations.
Be careful of withholding Rent
The above example shouldn’t be seen as a test case though – especially for those living in private rented accommodation under the terms of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
Annoying and frustrating though it may be, tenants have to play it by the rules whether in dispute with their landlord or waiting an unacceptably long time for remedial work such as pest control to be undertaken.
Basically, tenants don’t have the right to withhold rent – their landlord can evict them if they do. One recourse for a tenant is to arrange for pest removal along with the cause to be attended to and deduct the cost from rent payments, but care should be taken when following this course of action.
It may be that the landlord agrees to pay for repairs that the tenant organises. Whether organising pest removal with or without their landlord’s approval, the tenant MUST follow the correct procedures step by step.
It’s worth tenants seeking further help, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is a good start.
For those living in local authority housing, again withholding rent if in dispute or not happy with delayed responses to pest problems is not permitted.
A Grey Area
While landlords do have to attend to certain maintenance and repair issues such as pest control, the question is often: ‘what constitutes a timely manner?’ Rats and mice running amok in and around a property is clearly urgent whereas other types of maintenance and repair may be considered less so.
If a tenant is unhappy, then procedures as above can be followed. If all else fails a claim through the small claims court – or the threat of it – could prompt a faster response.
Tony Bond is the Founder of North London Pest Control who have a team of pest control experts and have budget friendly solutions for pest problems.