Pests are a persistent problem in rental properties all across Australia, and it presents several issues for landlords and tenants alike. The burden of responsibility isn't always clear, but there are undoubtedly steps that can be taken by both parties to reduce the likelihood of infestation. Finding out about the most common pests in your area is, how to prevent infestations. It is also important to discuss whose responsibility it is to control the pests but also how expensive or difficult the process of removing pests is should help you determine who is best to deal with the issue. Prevention is preferable, but it is important to note that it isn't always possible due to external environmental factors.
There are numerous pests you may encounter, but generally speaking insects and small mammals are the most common. Ants, cockroaches, termites, silverfish, ticks and fleas are the insects you're most likely to encounter, and each comes with specific issues. For example, fleas bite your skin and ticks can transmit things like Lyme disease. Spiders, bed bugs, rodents, mosquitoes, bees or wasps and even things like scorpions may infest your home. If you have an infestation, you should learn a little about the specific pest to help you avoid any specific risks. Remember that a handful of pests don't constitute an infestation, and in these cases you should be able to deal with it easily yourself.
Undoubtedly the best method of pest control is prevention. Many pests are searching for food, so the first steps should always be to cover and put away any food, seal any bins and move any pet food at night. Keeping your home tidy is another good method for prevention, because it minimises the potential hiding places for pests. As a tenant, you can also ventilate your home to prevent damp, cover any compost heaps and only use safe bird feeders. If you have a pet, you're responsible for ensuring they don't infest your home with fleas. Other issues (which may be out of the tenant's direct control) include cracks or gaps in the exterior of the property, leaking pipes or a damaged roof.
The responsibility for the pests depends heavily on the specific situation. The precautions listed in the preceding section are essentially guidelines for this decision. If the landlord has failed, for example, to correctly seal the exterior of the house or repair a broken roof, the tenant isn't (at least not primarily) at fault for a resulting infestation. However, if the tenant repeatedly leaves food out, doesn't keep the property clean and tidy or is otherwise negligent as a housekeeper, they may be deemed responsible. In practice, this is often difficult to clearly show, so landlords are likely to be classed as responsible. In some local councils you may also be held responsible if the pests from your home migrate and attack your neighbours.
Hygiene is the ultimate method of pest control, but other options are available if there is still an infestation. Pesticides are a potential solution, but as they're essentially a poison they are far from ideal. If you opt to use pesticides, reading the label is absolutely vital, as improper use could expose you or your loved ones to serious risks. You may be able to do things like remove the nest, dispose of the material the pests are hiding in and get rid of the queen to solve the issue. The best way to remove pests is through a professional pest controller.
Pest control professionals will determine the best method of control for your specific infestation. Generally speaking this will involve some form of extermination, with fumigation being a common method used. This essentially involves pesticides in the form of gasses being released into the home to remove all pests. Most pest control experts will address any other issues (which could aid prevention) as part of their process. It's important to note that this is a last resort, because it's often expensive and can usually be handled with products available at your local supermarket, such as flea bombs or Raid.
The cost of pest control can vary, and it will fall on the party deemed to be responsible for the infestation. If you have to pay because there is a dispute with your landlord, keep receipts and documentation, because if you can prove you weren't negligent you should be able to claim the money back. The professional will give you a valuation, but the average figure for a termite infestation – for example – is around $1,500, but the Australian Pest Controllers Association puts the figure at between two and four thousand dollars. Needless to say, a safe and effective extermination is more important than low cost, especially if the pest is termites. The damage they can do to the property and your belongings means that dealing with them is essential. You should be able to find out the likelihood of termite infestation in your area from your real estate or property manager.
Being aware of the risks of infestation, the steps you can take to prevent them and what to do when all else fails is important, but you shouldn't panic. The majority of pest control can be handled easily without cause to pay a professional and is also simple to prevent. You always have additional options if things are severe, but preventative techniques and over-the-counter products are usually more than adequate.
Carolyn Majda is General Manager of Australia's leading specialist landlord insurer Terri Scheer, and one of just a few business women leading insurance organisations in Australia. She recommends that you always seek professional advice as all the information contained in her articles are her own insights and thoughts.
She's a renowned industry figure who regularly advises on her fields of expertise, contributing to the Herald Sun, Property Toolbox, Your Investment Property Magazine, Your Mortgage, Business SA, Sold Magazine and Superliving among others. She is a regular judge for the REISA Awards – the professional body for more than 2000 real estate professionals in South Australia. Follow Carolyn on twitter at @CarolynMajda. She welcomes general feedback about Terri Scheer landlord insurance products to firstname.lastname@example.org
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