Every September our phone starts ringing with calls from anxious parents who’s son or daughter, having left the family nest for the first time, has found bed bugs in their student accommodation,
If you wanted to create the perfect (worst) environment for breeding Bed Bugs, it would be the student lifestyle. Lots of people visiting lots of others flats and houses on a very regular basis. All it takes is one house with Bed Bugs and within a week, they can be transferred to a dozen more. Then a week later, a dozen more. And so it continues.
During September freshers’ week, when students move into new digs that have been empty since the previous May, the very hungry Bed Bug that has gone without food for months, makes its move on night number one. On morning number two, the fresher will wake to find themselves looking like the Elephant Man, covered with bites.
Whose responsibility is it?
If your flat or house has Bed Bugs from the day you move in, they will have been there since earlier in the year. But from a legal point of view it’s a bit of a grey area.
If you discover Bed Bugs after several months of living there, your landlord will reasonably say that as it has been Bed Bug free for months, you the tenant (or your friends) have introduced them and its your responsibility. The laws says: Landlord and tenant act (LTA) 1985
Section 11. (landlord) Repairing obligations in short leases.
(1) In a lease to which this section applies (as to which, see sections 13 and 14) there is implied a covenant by the lessor:
(a) to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes),
(b) to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and
(c) to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water…
So, does the Bed Bug infestation affect the structure / exterior? No.
If the cause of the pests is disrepair at the property (for example mice entering through holes in the external walls) then the landlord may have some responsibility to resolve the issue.
Where pests are present at the start of the tenancy the issue is more complex. A landlord does not ordinarily give a warranty to a tenant that the property is pest free and habitable at the outset of the tenancy. Therefore, it is debatable whether a landlord is necessarily liable for the presence of pests in a property at the start of a tenancy.
However, where a property is let furnished a warranty is given that the property is pest-free at the outset of the tenancy (although no warranty is given that it will stay that way) and where a tenant discovers that a furnished property, as a whole, is infested they may be able to declare the tenancy repudiated, move out, and sue for damages following the principles laid down in Smith v Marrable. However, in this case the landlord was clearly refusing to deal with the issue and so it must be doubted whether the same actions could be taken if the landlord was unaware of the infestation and then took all reasonable steps to deal with it on it being brought to his attention. It should also be noted that in Smith the whole property was infested with rats and so the fact that bed bugs were present in a bed would not necessarily be sufficient to allow the tenant to claim repudiation.
If the property is an HMO (Houses in Multiple Occupation) then the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations will apply. These create a prosecutable offence if the property is not clean at start of tenancy and it may be the case that a Court would hold that the definition of clean should include freedom from pests. However, this has not been tested to our knowledge.
Where tenants import fleas of bugs into a property then the Courts have held that this is a breach of the tenant’s implied obligation to use the property in a tenant-like manner. In short, all landlords should do their utmost to ensure that there are no pests in a property at the outset of a tenancy.
What should you do?
If you have just moved in to a property and discovered Bed Bugs, contact your landlord and tell them straight away. Don’t wait for weeks. Some landlords are quite helpful, others are less so.
If your landlord starts to drag his heels, you might be better taking some positive action yourself (unfortunately at your expense) because the longer Bed Bugs go untreated, the faster they will breed and it can turn into a serious infestation.
What do you need to buy?
We sell complete Bed Bug kits for students that contain everything you need to tackle the problem and a variety of fast acting and effective Bed Bug treatments. If you can’t afford a mattress encasement to stop the Bed Bugs getting to you, ask the Bank of Mum & Dad to call us and pay for one.