Out of all the worries landlords have had to face 2023 – high mortgage rates, the proposed ban of Section 21 evictions and a plan to punitively change EPCs (thankfully the latter two ideas have been shelved for now) – there was one rather leftfield worry that no one saw coming.
Bed bugs. These creatures may be small but they are certainly mighty! Initial worries floated across the English Channel after Paris found itself in the grip of a bed bug outbreak. The epidemic was blamed on a summer season full of fluid movement, with travellers using Airbnb and other short-term rental sites to hop from property to property.
This flighty, multi-stop approach has seen bedbugs hitch a lift with holidaymakers and travellers, with the insects able to cling on to fabric suitcases, backpacks and clothing. It wasn’t long before the hysteria was felt in Britain, with local councils inundated with calls about infestations and pest control companies working overtime.
While most keenly felt in the short-term and holiday let sectors, there has been a palpable sense of concern among all landlords. The industry quickly turned its attention to the matter of responsibility – who checks, treats and pays for a bed bug problem?
The issue is so uncommon that there is no written legislation in the UK that dictates whether bed bugs are the tenant’s or landlord’s responsibility. What we do have is the guidelines outlined by Lord Denning in the Warren versus Keen court case, where the phrase ‘tenant-like manner’ was given some definition.
Even so, the interpretation is still unclear when in relation to bed bugs but a general ‘rule of thumb’ has emerged and crucial to establishing responsibilities are check in and check out procedures. Landlord should check for bed bugs during the inventory and check in process. Any third-party clerk, or the landlord themselves, should note down the bed bug status using photographic evidence to demonstrate no bug issue. If the start of a tenancy is bed bug free, the landlord has ticked the box in providing a property that’s free of infestation, relieving themselves of obligations.
The check-out inspection should look for bed bugs and if found, there is a high chance the tenant has introduced the problem via clothing, furniture, visitors or luggage. The treatment of bed bugs that are found upon check out – in cases where the check in and inventory show no signs of bed bugs on the day the tenant moved in – will become the responsibility of the tenant. As such, deposit deductions will be warranted.
Matters may be muddied if a buy-to-let is located in an area where council licensing is in force. In many cases, the conditions of a licence require the landlord to maintain a pest-free property. As such, the sole responsibility for treating bed bugs would fall to the landlord, regardless of the source and method of introduction.
As bed bugs present many grey areas in terms of responsibility, it is sensible to assume that disputes will arise if the creatures are found. It is not unheard of for pest control experts to be called in to help date when the bugs may have first appeared, by examining the number of eggs, the number of bugs and where the insects are in their reproductive cycle. Such evidence can work for or against a landlord.
The issue of bed bugs is thoroughly unpalatable – just ask any landlord who has moved a mattress to discover hundreds of non-paying tenants. Current advice is to perform regular inspections, reduce the number of soft furnishings provided or switch to unfurnished lets, replace carpets and curtains with hard floors and wooden blinds, and swap from short-term rentals and holidays lets to long-term tenancies. Landlords should also issue bed bug prevention literature to tenants – especially those who operate HMOs and holiday lets.
If bed bugs are another worry you’d rather not deal with, we don’t blame you! LandlordBuyer is speaking with small-scale investors and portfolio owners who are beginning to question their future in lettings. Our free cash offers can help you reach a decision on your future or you can simply contact us for advice.