Catch the pigeon
Landlords face tough penalties if they fail to deal thoroughly with infestations by insects or animals, says Giles Peaker
A recent case, Siveter v Wandsworth Council, is a cautionary tale for landlords on the importance of dealing with infestations in blocks of flats.
The problem in this case came from pigeons nesting in a cupboard in a communal hallway. There was an opening from the cupboard into
Ms Siveter’s flat. Landlord Wandsworth, removed the pigeons, but did not thoroughly treat the cupboard area. Poultry mites migrated into the flat and Ms Siveter and her son were bitten so badly they moved out.
Ms Siveter brought a damages claim for nuisance. Both her own environmental health officer and the council’s environment officer agreed that the cupboard should have been checked for infestation. Ms Siveter’s expert said it was a likely consequence of removing the pigeons that the mites would migrate into the flat.
The trial judge decided that removing the pigeons and spraying the area were reasonable steps but checking for the infestation was only important in hindsight.
Ms Siveter appealed, on the basis that the judge had ignored the clear evidence of both her EHO and the council’s officer. Wandsworth argued that the migration of the mites wasn’t foreseeable. The Court of Appeal found for Ms Siveter, ruling the behaviour of poultry mites was well known and therefore foreseeable. The case has gone back to the county court for damages to be assessed.
As well as the damages, the landlord will have the substantial legal costs of both parties to pay. But it could be worse. Last year Lambeth’s housing director was threatened with prison over allegedly failing to deal with an ant infestation - the case was settled.
Giles Peaker is a solicitor at Anthony Gold