When you first start living in your own accommodation you are going to come against a variety of issues that you have likely never encountered before. Damp? Rats? Broken boiler? Noisy neighbours? There are a whole host of problems that you could face and understanding what you can do to help and who you can call are two questions that you should know the answers to.
The most important things to remember is that prevention is the best form of protection, clean up and maintain the property to a good standard so that you don’t attract pests or bugs. Read through the sections below to see common pest issues that you may come across and what you can do about them.
There are five key preventative measures that you should take: Clean daily and wipe down surfaces and store leftover food in sealed containers or tupperware (never leave food out in the open!); use appropriate bin-bags so that when they are full they can be sealed and taken out; sweep and vacuum regularly so that you remove food that you might not be able to see and mop up any liquids on the floor, and if you have a garden, cut the grass; adequately heat and ventilate the property as this will reduce the amount of moisture in the air and combat against condensation and mould. If you notice any problems with your property, contact your landlord or letting agency as soon as possible. The longer you leave a problem, then the longer pests and bugs have to capitalise on it. The responsibility of dealing with an issue depends on how the problem occurred, for instance, it is your responsibility if you caused it (i.e. mice attracted to the property by rubbish you hadn’t thrown away) and it is the lessor’s if you did not (i.e. mice entered the property due to structural problems of the building).
When there is food waste, crumbs and old bin bags, vermin will appear. If you want to deter them from your property then follow these tips: avoid food accumulating on surfaces by regularly wiping them down; seal any leftover food and appropriately store it; take bins out regularly and avoid bags accumulating inside or outside; avoid collecting rubbish (beer bottles/cans) by recycling and throwing away unnecessary junk; clean the floors at least once a week. If you think you have mice, contact your landlord or letting agency. You could also set up traps or put down poison but with the latter, ensure other animals don’t ingest it! If you are responsible for dealing with vermin, contact the council as they will be able to help you deal with the problem.
Ants, like mice, usually come due to the presence of food, crumbs and rubbish which hasn’t been adequately disposed of. If you see one ant, it’s probably scouting for food. If you see a few, there may be a nest nearby you will have to deal with. If you want to deter them from your property then follow these tips: don’t let food accumulate on surfaces or floors by regularly wiping them down and hoovering; take bins out regularly and avoid multiple bags accumulating inside the property; clean the floors at least once a week. If you think you have ants, buy an ant repellent or an ant-killer powder/spray and apply it close to the nest (some non-toxic ant repellents include cinnamon, coffee grinds, chilli peppers, paprika, and cloves). If you can’t find the nest, use repellent where the ants are entering your property, this way the ants will carry the repellent back to the nest, or use caulk to seal possible entrances. If you are concerned you can’t deal with an infestation of ants, contact you landlord or letting agency.
Pests: Bed Bugs
Bed bugs normally come from old furniture and things that have come into contact with them (a backpackers rucksack is a prime example). Bedbugs are attracted to blood and are normally located in the bedroom. Their bites cause itchiness and mild skin irritation and normally come in distinctive lines of dots on your skin. Check mattresses and crevices around beds and bed-frames for signs of bugs and as a precaution try to clean and vacuum often so you spot their presence early on. Check second-hand furniture/items you purchase and keep your bed clutter free. If you think you have bedbugs, contact your landlord or letting agency. If you do, wash all your bedding and clothing at 60°C but they are resilient so you might need to contact the council or a pest control service for assistance.
Moths are fairly harmless but their babies are not! Moth Larvae eat your clothes, carpets and even flour! Clothing-Moth larvae need keratin, which is in most natural fibres (wool, fur, silk etc…), and Mill-Moth larvae like grains (cereals, flour etc…).If you think you have a moth problem, then lavender is a good repellent. Fill some sachets with lavender (or lavender oil) and put them in your cupboards or wardrobe. If you notice holes starting to appear in your clothes, then dispose of or wash the clothes at 50°C for 30mins. You should also vacuum near where you found the affected items and throw away the vacuum-bag straight after.
Whilst pests and bugs can be troublesome, lasting and costly damage can be caused by other factors. Again, prevention is the best form of protection, so clean up and maintain the property to a good standard to ensure you avoid, or limit the impact of, the following issues.
Damp can lead to a lot of problems so it’s important to tackle it early on. In all cases, adequate heating and ventilation of the property is the best preventative measure as it will reduce the amount of moisture in the air. Condensation is a type of damp you will see build up after a hot shower or by drying your clothes inside, and it becomes much more frequent as the temperature drops outside. If you notice condensation, take action by: drying your clothes in a tumble-dryer or outside as much as possible; keeping saucepans covered and turning on extractor fans whilst cooking; shortening showers and reducing the temperature; opening windows to allow air to escape. Rising and penetrating damp, are caused by external water coming into the property, with the former entering ground up and the latter through walls, the roof or openings. These forms of damp will need to be addressed by your landlord/letting agency although, if you haven’t looked after the property or informed your landlord/letting agency of damp you may well be responsible for the damage.
Damp can lead to a lot of problems like peeling wallpaper and breaking plasterboard but the worst is mould! Mould can seriously affect your health and sometimes leads to severe respiratory problems. If you notice mould or damp, inform your landlord or letting agency. It is possible to clean mould with water and bleach but use a face-mask to protect yourself and throw away the cloth immediately after to avoid spreading it!
Maintenance and Upkeep
The tenant is usually responsible for general upkeep of the property (cleaning, minor maintenance and preventative measures, looking after appliances and furniture etc…) and for informing their landlord/letting agency of any damage and/or repairs needed (not including fair wear and tear). Your tenancy agreement details what maintenance and upkeep responsibilities you have. The following are examples of what normally falls under tenant responsibilities: Changing light-bulbs; ensuring pipes don’t freeze; adequately ventilating and heating the property; replacing batteries in smoke detectors; sufficient cleanliness to avoid unsafe conditions or attracting pests; maintaining communal areas such as gardens or hallways. If you (or any of your friends) damage the property or anything inside it, you will likely have to pay for the repairs. A maintenance procedure will be outlined in your tenancy agreement. Major repairs and maintenance to the property and installations (boiler, electricity, pipes, etc…) are normally the responsibility of the landlord/letting agency (unless you cause the problem through carelessness). If you notice an issue, report the problem as soon as possible.
If you have informed your landlord and/or letting agency of a problem and they are refusing to act, you should visit >Shelter for more information on what you can do, and contact the if necessary. The video below should give you some insight into whether an issue is is your responsibility to deal with or no.
Ensure you have read the Repairing Standard and the Tolerable Standard, which are the standards that landlords and letting agencies must ensure their property adheres to, so that you know your lessor is meeting their obligations.
Other issues you might come across with regards to your landlord or letting agency, and what you can do about them, are listed below.
Unregistered Landlord/Letting Agency
A private landlord needs to be registered with the council in order to lease out a property. Operating as an unregistered landlord is a criminal offence and most are required by law to apply for registration (visit shelter for exemptions). You can search the Landlord Register and Letting Agent Register for free, all you need is the property postcode. If your landlord hasn't applied to register, inform them they should be registered (it's possible they are unaware they needed to register). If you have spoken to them and they still won't register, contact the council who will issue them with a deadline by which they must register. If your landlord doesn't register after this, then they may be sent a penalty notice and could face a substantial fine.
Breaching The Code of Practice
All letting agents must comply with The Letting Agent Code of Practice which covers all aspects of letting and how letting agencies can interact with tenants and landlords. If you have read The Letting Agent Code of Practice and you feel that your letting agent has breached it, you should inform them of the breach. Hopefully, they will use the opportunity to rectify the mistake. In the event they take no notice of the breach and/or refuse to resolve the issue, you should apply to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber).
No HMO License
A HMO applies to any living accommodation occupied by 3 or more unrelated people, as their main or only residence, and who share kitchen and/or bathroom facilities (there are exceptions but you can find out whether you live in one at Shelter. The landlord or letting agency is required by law to have a HMO licence to ensure the property meets safety standards, is managed properly and is of good quality. To check if your property has a HMO licence, ask your landlord or contact the council who will be able to tell you of all the licensed landlords in the area. If you think that your property is unlicensed, then you should report your landlord to your council. For further information on HMO licenses, visit Shelter.
Premiums/Letting Agent Fees/Admin Fees
Premiums are illegal payments requested by letting Agencies/landlords. Fees for carrying out reference/credit/inventory checks, charges for supplying duplicate copies of the lease and any non-refundable 'holding' fees are illegal fees. Letting agencies in Scotland are prohibited from charging fees before you sign up to rent a property. Once an agency has found you a property, they can ask you to pay a deposit and rent; it is illegal for them to charge any other fees. You may be asked to pay a holding fee to secure the property but this is likely used as rent and not as a non-refundable payment. In the instance you are charged for anything other than rent or deposit, question it and refer them to Shelter. If you have been charged an illegal fee, you can challenge the fee at any time in your tenancy and up to five years after. Inform the agency in writing and ask them to return the money and provide proof of the illegal fee (receipt/bank statement). Sign and date the letter, and make a personal copy before sending it to the agency (Shelter have a template letter). If you are not returned the money, you may have to take the letting agency to court, for more information, visit Shelter.
If you don’t agree with deductions made to your deposit, you should negotiate with your landlord/ letting agency and provide evidence of why the deduction is unreasonable. In the event that you cannot reach an agreeable outcome, contact your deposit scheme and enter a dispute process. This will give both you and your landlord the opportunity to submit evidence to be reviewed by an independent adjudicator who will settle the dispute. For more information, visit shelter.
In the event that you are having issues with your landlord or letting agency you should get in contact with Citizens Advice, and/or your council. There is also a lot of useful information for tenants in private accommodation on the Shelter website!
If you are having any issues with housemates, you can check out our page here, and if you are having any other issues with accommodation not addressed here, then you can contact the Advice and Support department at RGU:Union, and also ResLife, who offer a lot of support and advice for university accommodation and may be able to answer questions about private accommodation.
Contact RGU:Union Advice and Support via the below links or via the chat-widget on this page, and to provide feedback on the service, please complete the Advice & Support Survey.