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Pests and infestations

A rented property could be unfit to live in if it is infested with bugs, vermin, or other pests.  

This content applies to England

What is an infestation of pests?

An infestation is the presence of large numbers of insects or animals that are classed as vermin. There is no complete list of what could be classed as vermin. In the UK, it normally means insects like ants, wasps, and cockroaches, and animals like rats, mice, and pigeons. 

Signs of an infestation 

Signs of an infestation can include sightings of the pests or other evidence such as: 

  • droppings and footprints 

  • damage to property or belongings 

  • odour and discoloration 

Sighting one or two animals or insects is unlikely to be evidence of an infestation unless there are other signs that the pests are present in the property in large numbers. 

Causes of infestations

Pests and infestations could be caused by structural problems, a build-up of refuse, or a combination of both.

Infestations caused by the occupiers

The tenant could be in breach of their tenancy agreement if they do not keep the rented property clean. This includes storing rubbish and food waste in a way that does not encourage pests.

The tenant could face enforcement action by the local authority if they cause an infestation of pests in the area.

Structural and design problems

Structural problems could include holes in the wall or damaged windows that allow pests and infestations to enter the property. A design problem that means a property cannot be kept clean and hygienic could attract pests.

Examples of structural defects and design problems could include:

  • damaged external walls that allow pests to enter

  • damaged vents or drains

  • cracks in surfaces or worktops that mean they cannot be kept clean

  • inadequate ventilation that causes conditions for pests to thrive

Rubbish and waste

Rubbish and food waste can attract pests and vermin. This can include a build-up of uncollected refuse from a home or business. It could be caused by inadequate or unhygienic facilities for storing or disposing of waste.

Rubbish and waste can cause or aggravate infestations of pests if it is not removed regularly or stored properly.

Food waste from restaurants and catering

Businesses that produce food waste must dispose of it in facilities that can be kept clean and free of pests. Residents can report restaurants that do not keep their food waste free from pests to the food safety team at the local authority. The Food Standards Agency website has a tool to find the nearest food safety team to the business.

Action a tenant can take

The action a tenant can take depends on the cause and nature of the infestation.  

Most mammals and birds and some insects are protected by law. It is a criminal offence for someone to kill or injure most wildlife even if it is causing a nuisance.

Notify the landlord about the infestation

The tenant should notify the landlord in writing about the infestation as quickly as possible. The tenant can use the letter to explain if disrepair or structural defects are causing or aggravating the problem. They can also set out the ways in which the infestation is affecting them and their household, for example, if it is affecting someone’s health.

The tenant's letter to the landlord should set out what steps the landlord needs to take. For example, the landlord might need to:

  • arrange removal or extermination of pests from the property

  • fix a structural defect to prevent pests from entering again

  • supply alternative accommodation if the pest control or repairs cannot be done whilst the property is occupied

Get help to remove the infestation

The tenant can contact their local authority for advice about dealing with an infestation. Most local authorities provide a pest control service for a fee. The fee might be reduced for people on means-tested benefits.

Commercial services provide pest control solutions. Tenants who contract a commercial service should ensure they are registered with the British Pest Control Association. Companies that are not registered might not be insured, or might use prohibited methods or chemicals.

The tenant can ask the landlord if they are willing to pay for the pest removal. The landlord might not be willing to pay if the infestation has been caused by the tenant, for example, because they have not disposed of food waste properly.

Using commercial waste disposal services

Tenants who need to get rid of waste might use a service to dispose of it. They should ensure the person is properly licenced, as the tenant could be prosecuted if the waste is fly-tipped.

Risks to the tenant’s health 

Infestations of certain insects and animals can spread disease or present a risk to health. Tenants should discuss health concerns with their GP if they think pests are causing or worsening health problems. 

Local authority duties to deal with infestations

Tenants can contact the environmental health department of the local authority. The local authority might have a duty to take action to control the pests.[1]

Housing Health and Safety Rating System

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a framework used by local authorities to assess housing conditions. There is a list of 29 prescribed hazards, including pests and refuse.

Hazards are divided into category 1 and 2. Category 1 hazards are the most serious and a local authority must take action.

If the local authority is prevented from treating property because it cannot gain access, it can take action to obtain access to premises and carry out the treatments.[2] Council officials must obtain a warrant from a magistrate and can enter at 24 hours' notice.

Rats and mice

Local authorities have a duty to take steps to try and keep its area free from rats and mice. In carrying out this duty it must:[3]

  • carry out inspections from time to time

  • keep land and properties the authority itself occupies free from rats and mice

  • take action against the owners and occupiers of land

Landowners and occupiers must inform the local authority in writing if substantial numbers of rats or mice are on their land or property.[4]

The local authority can serve a notice on owners and occupiers that specifies a time and day for treatment and structural or other repair work.[5] Local authorities can give 24 hours' notice to enter any land to:[6]

  • inspect the premises

  • enforce notices

  • carry out treatment or repair work

Landlord's health and safety responsibilities

Infestations of pests can cause health and safety problems in the home. Some pests can bite or sting, spread disease, cause allergies, and transfer bacteria.

Hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System

A rental property must be fit for habitation on the first day of the tenancy and remain fit throughout the tenancy. A property that contains a hazard is not fit for habitation.

Pests and infestations are a category of prescribed hazards included in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).[7] The category also includes domestic hygiene and refuse.

The HHSRS includes health hazards due to:

  • poor design, layout, and construction making it hard to keep clean and hygienic, attracting pests

  • inadequate and unhygienic provision for storing household waste

A report by a local authority could be used as evidence that a property is unfit for habitation. There is no requirement that a local authority must have inspected a property for it to be unfit.

Read more about fitness for habitation in rented homes on Shelter Legal.

Statutory nuisance

A nuisance is something that interferes with a person's right to use and enjoy their property. It covers things like noise, smoke, odours, and infestations. Statutory nuisance refers to the types of nuisance that are prohibited by law, for example, because they are a risk to health.

Statutory nuisance includes when a property is ‘in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance’.[8] Infestations of pests can be prejudicial to health.

Read more about statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act on Shelter Legal.

Landlord's duty to repair the property

The tenancy agreement might contain express terms that cover disrepair. For residential tenancies, legislation always overrides what is written in the tenancy agreement unless the tenancy agreement gives the tenant additional rights.

Legislation requires landlords to take action to deal with infestations and disrepair problems that are causing infestations. Some of the legislation overlaps. For example, a problem with the structure of a property that is covered by section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 could also be classed as a hazard under the Housing Act 2004, and covered by the Defective Premises Act 1972.

Repairs covered by section 11

The landlord must repair the structure and exterior of the property if it has fallen into disrepair.

Section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 imposes a duty on landlords to deal with disrepair for most residential tenancies. Section 11 covers the repair of defects that could lead to an infestation including:

  • walls, doors, and windows

  • drains and pipes

  • sanitation

Read more about section 11 repair responsibilities on Shelter Legal.

Landlord's duty to comply with enforcement notices

The local authority can serve notices under the Housing Act 2004 if there is a hazard at the property. The notice can:

  • demand the landlord improve the property

  • impose a prohibition on the use of the premises

It is an offence for a landlord to fail to comply with an improvement notice or prohibition order.

Options if the landlord does not deal with the infestation

There is no set period of time for a landlord to deal with an infestation. How long is reasonable depends on how serious the infestation is.

In one case, the County Court held that repairs to a tenant's floorboards to stop rats or mice from entering the property should have been done within 28 days.[9]

The tenant's options if the landlord does not deal with the infestation are to:

  • report the infestation to the local authority

  • start court proceedings for disrepair

  • pay for the repairs and claim the money back from the landlord through the courts

Report the landlord to the local authority

The local authority has a duty to take action against a landlord for some types of hazards.[10] This could include issuing an improvement notice or a prohibition order. It could take emergency action to deal with the infestation if there is a risk of serious harm.[11]

If the tenant's landlord is the local authority, the environmental health department is part of the local authority and cannot take legal action against itself. The tenant can complain to the Housing Ombudsman about the local authority's failure to deal with the infestation.

Start a disrepair claim

The tenant can issue a County Court claim for disrepair. Disrepair claims can be complex. There is a pre-action protocol that the tenant must follow before they start a claim. The tenant might need to get expert reports and evidence, which can be very expensive.

Tenants should get legal advice before they start a court claim for disrepair.

Read more about a tenant's remedies for disrepair on Shelter Legal.

Pay for the repairs and issue a money claim

Tenants who have the means might prefer to pay for the repairs themselves and then claim the money back from the landlord. There is no guarantee they will be able to recover all or some of the money. The tenant can improve their chances of recovering the sum by:

  • gathering evidence of the infestation, for example taking photographs

  • reporting the infestation to the landlord

  • giving the landlord a reasonable time to complete the works

  • reporting the infestation to the environmental health department at the local authority

  • getting three quotes for the work and commissioning the cheapest one

  • requesting payment from the landlord

Claims under £10,000 are normally allocated to the small claims track. The tenant and the landlord usually pay their own costs for small claims, unless one party acts unreasonably.

Read more about money claims under part 7 on Shelter Legal.

Complain to the Housing Ombudsman

A tenant of a social landlord can complain to the Housing Ombudsman if their landlord does not deal with an infestation of pests. Complaining to the Housing Ombudsman is free.

Read more about complaining to the Housing Ombudsman on Shelter Legal.

Withholding rent

The tenant might be tempted to withhold payment of rent whilst the repairs are outstanding. This is a risk because the landlord can start possession proceedings for rent arrears. Private landlords of an assured shorthold tenancy could start section 21 proceedings to evict the tenant.

If the tenant needs to move out

The tenant might have to move out of the property temporarily while the landlord completes repair works or deals with an infestation. For example, where the repairs require significant structural work or when the infestation means the tenant cannot stay where they are.

Most private landlords do not have an obligation to provide the tenant with alternative accommodation, but the tenant could ask for somewhere else to stay. A landlord's insurance might cover the costs of a short stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast.

A tenant should continue to pay their rent unless the landlord agrees to a rent reduction in writing.

Find out more about problems during repairs.

Finding alternative accommodation

When an infestation of pests is not dealt with, a tenant might have to consider moving out of the property permanently.

A tenant might be able to:

  • apply for the housing register

  • find private rented accommodation

  • apply as homeless to the local authority

A person is homeless if it is not reasonable for them to continue to occupy their accommodation. A tenant can approach the local authority to make a homeless application.

Tenants should seek advice before leaving the accommodation. A local authority could find that a tenant who leaves accommodation due to the property conditions is intentionally homeless if their accommodation was still reasonable to continue to occupy.

Find out more about the homeless application process.

A tenant might need to give a valid notice to end their tenancy if they decide to leave.

Find out more about how a tenant can end a tenancy.

Last updated: 22 June 2023


  • [1]

    s.83 Public Health Act 1936 .

  • [2]

    s.287 Public Health Act 1936.

  • [3]

    s.2 Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949.

  • [4]

    s.3 Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949.

  • [5]

    s.4 Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949.

  • [6]

    s.22 Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949.

  • [7]

    reg 3(1) and Sch.1 Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005 SI 2005/3208.

  • [8]

    s.79(1)(a) Environmental Protection Act 1990.

  • [9]

    for example, see Read v Notting Hill Housing Trust, Bow County Court, Legal Action December 2013/January 2014.

  • [10]

    s.5 Housing Act 2004.

  • [11]

    s.40 Housing Act 2004.