Rodents: Whose Responsibility?

So you have rats in the walls? Or you have mice in the house?

If you own the house then it’s your problem and your responsibility – nice and straight forward.

However if you are a leaseholder or are renting then it’s not quite so clear.

The situation for people renting…..

In the vast majority of cases, you put a call into the landlord and they’ll refer to the tenancy agreement

Guess what? The tenancy agreement states that pests (and everything else that suggests cost for that matter) are your responsibility!

Tenancy agreements are inevitably written with a heavy bias on preserving the profits of the landlord and usually overwrite the various Acts of Parliament that may suggest otherwise.

Landlords hide behind this document and simply chance that most tenants never challenge them on it as they assume it to be legal and above board.

In a legal tussle though, it doesn’t matter what you signed up for – if there is an Act of Parliament that states otherwise it will come down to that at the end of the day.

When Environmental Health enforce people or businesses to take action against pests, they will always cite the relevant Act that is empowering them.

The most important Acts are these…

1949 Prevention of Damage by Pests Act

Essentially says that landlords have a duty to ensure rodents cannot ingress into a property and compromise the health, safety and welfare of the individuals inside (who are paying rent)

If rats are within the walls, ceiling voids or under the floor then this will compromise HS&W through chewed wires risking fire, chewed pipes risking flood, odour, rat fleas and from dust borne Weils disease if uncovered floorboards are present.

If mice are within the living areas, then HS&W is compromised by their feet spreading Salmonella & E Coli, their droppings, their urine and from contaminated food stuffs.

If squirrels are in the roof, then this will compromise HS&W through chewed wires, chewed pipes and the risk of dead ones ending up in any CWS tanks.

1974 Health & Safety at Work Act

If you have rodents affecting where you work in the same manner as listed above, then your employer has a duty under this act to ensure you work in an environment that doesn’t compromise your health & safety.

Aside from the bacteria and viruses associated with rodents there is also the stress they can impose on some people – this too can fall under the definition of ‘an environment that doesn’t compromise your health & safety’.

The situation for leaseholders…

Things are a little more complicated when it’s leasehold.

Here the legal arrangement is that the leaseholder is responsible for the flat itself but the freeholder is responsible for the ‘fabric of the building’ – that is the external walls, roof, the common parts and services in and out.

A typical response from a freeholder to a report of rodents from the leaseholder is ‘well they weren’t there when you moved in so you must have brought them with you’.

This is an incredibly short-sighted approach.

All rodents will enter a building via defects to the building fabric – they don’t hide in suitcases or smuggle themselves in with the shopping delivery.

House mice for example will enter a property via defects to the building fabric – i.e. where mains water/gas/electricity enters the flat or where the floor meets the wall underneath the kitchen units.

Essentially house mice live in the building fabric and can travel from one property to another this way where a block of flats or terraced row exist – they then emerge into the living areas to forage for food wherever penetrations/defects arise allowing them to do this.

Rats will always enter a building fabric from a drainage defect or occasionally from an above ground entry point in the externals of the building.

Whether these defects are the leaseholders responsibility or the freeholders comes down to (1) exactly where the defect(s) are within the building fabric (2) what the defect is or what has caused it and (3) the interpretation of the legislation outlining freeholders liability versus leaseholders liability.

There is why a correct diagnosis of what is permitting the rodents to infest your property is critical – do not believe that they came in the back door!