The accidental landlord: scratching my head over carpet bugs

The accidental landlord is puzzled when a tenant reports some new arrivals running amok. But who picks up the bill?
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Carpet beetles — I have been feeling horribly itchy since getting a phone call from one of my tenants complaining that the flat she rents from me is crawling with the creatures.
In the past I have had to deal with infestations of mice, moths and — by far the worst — bed bugs in rental properties, but I’d never even heard of carpet beetles until her call.

I Googled them while she was on the phone to find out what they were and how to get rid of them and it seems that it’s not unusual to find these tiny, hairy insects in centrally heated homes, where they like to breed. They are most usually found under carpets — hence the name — around skirting boards and in wardrobes.
They’re not a health hazard exactly, although exposure to a large number of carpet beetles can apparently irritate the skin. But their larvae eat holes in carpets, upholstery and clothes, so obviously they need to be exterminated.
I suggested my tenant bought a can of Super Flea & Fly Bomb, which I found online for £8.99, as it promises to annihilate carpet beetles, but she claimed to have already tried a DIY spray and said it hadn’t worked.
In that case, I said, she and the other three tenants ought to arrange for a professional fumigation of the property. I recommended she contact the local council’s pest control department, which charges about £200. Alternatively, I said she could call a private fumigation firm, such as Rentokil, for advice.
There was an awkward silence for several seconds before I realised that of course, she hadn’t called me for advice, she had called because she was expecting me to arrange the fumigation and to pick up the bill. Blooming typical. Tenants always expect the landlord to sort out any problems, regardless of whether they are at fault.
I admit that insect infestations are a grey area when it comes to who is responsible — often it isn’t 100 per cent obvious who should deal with them. However, in this case, it seemed pretty clear to me that it was the tenant’s responsibility, not mine.
From what I can work out from my online research, looking at sites such as Citizens Advice, if a property is let furnished, like mine, the landlord is responsible for making sure it is free of any pests when the tenant moves in, but when an infestation arises during the tenancy, it is the tenant’s responsibility to deal with it.
The only exception would be if the infestation was caused by disrepair. For example, if mice had got into the property through holes in the wall, then it would be the landlord’s fault.
As my tenants moved in last summer, I don’t think it’s harsh of me to insist that the recent arrival of carpet beetles is something they ought to deal with. However, I don’t want my carpet eaten away so I have offered to split the bill. To avoid such confusion in future, I intend to insert a clause into my tenancy agreements making it clear that an infestation arising during the lease is the tenants’ problem, unless there is a fault with the property, in which case, it’s mine.
I’ve probably made you itchy now. 
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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