In this case, a landlord claimed £150, explaining that a pest control contractor was required to attend at the end of the tenancy in order to remove a wasp nest. The landlord did not provide any estimate or invoice to support the claim.
The tenant disputed the claim on the basis that it was unreasonable for them to be held responsible for a wasp nest infestation.
The check-in report did not record any pre-existing infestation. The check-out report noted a “large amount of wasps” to the front of the terrace property and suggested that “maybe a nest is present as all the wasps are going towards the roof of the property”.
The detail of the check-out report went on to note that no “obvious” nest could be been seen.
The landlord referred the tenant to a clause in their tenancy agreement which required them to take “all reasonable precautions to prevent any infestation at the property and to be liable for the cost of a professional de-infestation of the property, its furniture and effects should an infestation occur after a period of one month from the commencement of the term, but this does not require the tenant to be responsible for any infestation of the structure of the property”.
An adjudicator would normally take the view that if an infestation occurs that is beyond a tenant’s control and not caused by them, they will not be liable for the cost of its removal.
The adjudicator would take a different view if the tenant’s actions caused the infestation, or led to the issue becoming worse – for example failing to report an obvious problem to the landlord so that it could be addressed.
In this case, the check-out report noted the presence of wasps, but did not record any nest.
Those wasps that were seen were sighted near the roof of the property. Given that it was a terrace property, it was by no means clear from the check-out report alone where the wasp nest was located.
The adjudicator decided that the evidence presented did not justify an award to the landlord. Although wasps were seen, no nest was immediately apparent and it would be unreasonable to expect the tenant to report an infestation on this evidence alone.
The check-out report did not record any other reasons why the tenant might be responsible for attracting wasps to the property. The wasps were sighted near the roof; even if there was a wasps’ nest at the property (which was by no means certain) the tenancy agreement did not hold the tenant liable for infestation to the structure of the property.
This case highlights the importance of a number of issues. Changes in a property’s condition at tenancy end need to be recorded carefully in check-out reports. In this case the check-out report was ambiguous when it came to proving the existence or location of the nest and who should be responsible for it.
There are of course limitations to what an inventory clerk can see and the opinions they can give. In this case, a contractor’s invoice or estimate from a suitably qualified pest control contractor would have been useful to supplement the check-out report, in order to confirm the problem and its possible cause.
Without this evidence, the natural path was for the tenancy deposit to be returned to the tenant.
- Michael Morgan is director of dispute resolution at Tenancy Deposit Scheme