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Dealing with infestations in privately rented property (England)

Published Thursday, February 4, 2016

This House of Commons Briefing Paper provides an overview of the factors to consider when deciding who is responsible for tackling infestations in privately rented housing, together with a summary of the powers available to local authorities.

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The problem

Properties infested with pests such as rats, mice, cockroaches, fleas and bed bugs are a risk to occupants and public health in general.

Infestations can spread diseases, cause damage, and aggravate certain health conditions including asthma, eczema and other allergies. Mental health may also be affected.

Research published by Shelter in October 2015 estimated that nearly half a million private rented homes (one in nine) in England had problems with animal infestation.

Who is responsible?

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;
  • whether the property was already infested when the tenant moved in, or was caused by a structural defect or disrepair; or
  • whether the infestation may have resulted from some act or omission of the tenant.

It can be extremely difficult to ascertain how an infestation has occurred and, in turn, who is responsible for eradication.

Local authorities' powers

Where the problem poses a wider risk to public health local authorities may have a responsibility to take action. Authorities have various powers at their disposal including under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949; the Public Health Act 1936; and the Environmental Protection Act 1990

Local authority powers and duties under the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS, introduced by the Housing Act 2004 and related regulations) may also be relevant, but it is rare for a pest infestation to trigger local authority action under the HHSRS.

Commons Briefing papers SN06041

Authors: Wendy Wilson; Alex Adcock

Topics: Housing standards, Private rented housing

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