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Pests and vermin

Your home may be uninhabitable if it is infested by pests and vermin such as cockroaches or rats. You may be able to deal with infestations yourself, but for more serious outbreaks, you should contact the council's environmental health department or a local pest control firm.

What kinds of pests invade homes?

No matter how clean your home, disrepair or poor building design may result in infestation by cockroaches, ants, mites, silverfish, bedbugs, fleas, rats or mice. Pests and vermin can:

  • spread diseases
  • damage your home and belongings
  • sting or bite
  • aggravate asthma, eczema and other allergies.

A severe infestation problem could make your home uninhabitable.

How do I deal with common pests?

Here's a guide to dealing with the most common household invaders. If you're using poisons or insecticides, make sure you always follow the manufacturer's instructions and keep them out of the reach of children and pets.

You should be able to get advice and help in tackling pests from your local council's environmental health department - you can find details on your council's website.

Ants

Ants don't pose a significant health risk, but that doesn't mean you want them swarming into your home. If you discover ants (particularly winged ants) in your home, you can try simply vacuuming them up, or you can tackle them using an ant spray or powder, which you can buy in any DIY store. Treat the nest if you can find it - you may be able to locate it by following the trail of ants. If the nest is inaccessible, treat all entry points to your home (doors, windows, drains, etc), and the ants should carry the insecticide back to the nest.

Bats

Bats are not rodents, and will not nibble or gnaw at wood, wires or insulation. Bats do not build nests and therefore do not bring bedding material into the roost; neither do they bring their insect prey into the roost. Most bats are seasonal visitors to buildings - they are unlikely to live in the same building all year round, although they are loyal to their roosts and so usually return to the same roosts year after year. Bats are protected as are their roosts - seek advice if you are planning building work that could disturb them. The Bat Conservation Trust helpline is 0345 1300 228 and Scottish Natural Heritage are also a useful organisation to contact 01463 725 165.

Bees and wasps

Bees and wasps only become a problem if they build nests in the eaves of your home. If disturbed, they can swarm, and may attack. If you discover a nest, don't go near it. Call the council, who can send round an expert to deal with the problem.

Bedbugs

Bedbugs are almost a centimetre long. They feed on blood and leave nasty bite marks. If you think you may have bedbugs, wash all bedding at 60°C, then use an insecticide on the mattress, headboard and any other areas they could be hiding. If this doesn't work, you may need to call in the council.

Cockroaches

These large, beetle-like insects lurk in warm, dark, humid places such as the areas around pipe ducts in kitchens and bathrooms or under the cooker. They can cause food poisoning and other health problems, such as dermatitis and asthma. Don't attempt to tackle cockroaches yourself - you'll need to call in an expert.

Dust mites

Dust mites live in mattresses and bedding, feeding off the sweat and skin cells we shed while sleeping. If you suffer from eczema, asthma or any other respiratory disease, dust mites can make your condition worse. To keep them under control:

  • wash your bedding regularly at 60°C
  • wrap mattresses and pillows in dust-proof covers
  • remove any carpets from your bedroom
  • keep your bedroom cool and well ventilated, as mites prefer warm, humid environments.

You can get more tips at Allergy UK.

Fleas

Pet cats and dogs are usually responsible for bringing fleas into the home. Fleas don't spread disease but their bites are itchy and unsightly. To combat them:

  • treat your pet with a spray, powder or 'spot on' product - you can buy these in pet shops, but it's best to get advice from your vet first
  • spray carpets, sofas and bedding with flea spray, paying particular attention to anywhere your pet sleeps
  • wash all bedding in a hot wash
  • vacuum thoroughly and regularly.

Hide beetles

Hide beetles are a problem in central Scotland but are uncommon in the Borders or the North. Up to a centimetre long, they hide under the cooker or fridge and feed on food scraps. Although they don't pose much of a health risk, they can cause structural damage by boring holes in plaster or wood. You can deal with them by cleaning infected areas thoroughly and treating them with a residual insecticide (an insecticide which keeps on working for a long time).

Mice and rats

Mice and rats spread disease through their urine and droppings. They also cause a lot of damage to your home and furnishings, and can chew through electrical wires, increasing the risk of fire and electrocution.

Mice are very common in old buildings, particularly during the wintertime. However, you can keep them under control yourself using traps or poison, which you can buy in most DIY stores. A cat is also an effective deterrent.

If you find evidence of rats in your home, you should call in the council or a pest control firm to deal with them immediately.

Silverfish

These long, silver, slimy, wingless insects thrive in damp conditions. They don't pose a serious health risk but can swarm if they're not dealt with. Use an insecticide from a DIY store to kill them, and keep kitchen and bathroom cupboards clean and dry to prevent their return.

Squirrels

Squirrels can cause problems if they take up residence in your loft or roof spaces. They can tear away insulation, damage pipes and items stored in the loft and chew through cables and wires, causing a risk of fire and electrocution. To prevent them getting in, block any holes with wire mesh and make sure any missing bricks or roof tiles are replaced. Crushed up mothballs placed around the loft may also act as a deterrent.

If they have already got in, you'll need to scare them away by making lots of noise before blocking up their access routes. If they have young, you'll have to wait until they are old enough to leave the nest before you can do this. If the problem is particularly bad, you may need to call in the council or a pest control company. Find out more at www.squirrels.info.

How can I prevent infestation?

To keep creepy crawlies out of your home, there are several simple precautions you can take:

  • Make sure your home is always clean, especially in the kitchen. Wipe down kitchen surfaces and sweep or vacuum floors regularly to remove any trace of food.
  • Store food in sealed containers.
  • Don't leave uncovered food out in warm weather as it attracts flies, ants and wasps.
  • Clear up any water spillages or leaks, as these can encourage cockroaches and silverfish.
  • Keep the kitchen bin closed and empty it regularly.
  • Put rubbish out in properly sealed bags or bins.
  • If you have a garden or yard, don't let it become overgrown, as this provides a good home for mice and rats.
  • Don't dump old furniture, mattresses or other rubbish in the garden or yard, for the same reason. Call the council if you need old furniture uplifted, or take it to the tip yourself.
  • If you feed garden birds, don't put food out in the evening and always use a bird table. Don't put bird food on the ground as this can attract rats.
  • If you have a compost heap, don't put cooked food on it. Again, this attracts rats.
  • Block up any holes in the brickwork, roof, skirting board and floorboards, to prevent rats, mice and squirrels getting into your home. If you rent your home, you can ask your landlord to do this for you.

How do I deal with more serious infestations?

If you can't deal with the pests yourself, you should be able to get help from the council's environmental health department. Most councils charge for pest control, but it's likely that this will still be a cheaper option than calling in a private firm. Get a few estimates if you're unsure.

Is it my landlord's responsibility to deal with pests?

Private tenants

If you rent privately, you can report pest infestations to your landlord and ask them to deal with the problem. Your landlord may claim that the infestation is your responsibility, especially in the case of fleas brought in by a household pet or mice attracted by food and rubbish. In this case, it may be quicker and easier to try to get rid of the pests yourself.

If the problem is caused by disrepair, for example, if mice or rats are coming in through holes in the walls or leaking plumbing is causing damp conditions which encourage to cockroaches, you should report this to your landlord as soon as possible.

If the problem is serious and your landlord refuses to take action, you can contact the council's environmental health department, who can carry out an inspection of your home and give your landlord an abatement notice, forcing them to deal with the problem.

Council tenants

If you can't deal with the problem yourself, report it to the council as soon as possible.

What if the problem can't be solved?

If you rent your home and the infestation cannot be controlled, you may have no option but to move out. In this case, your landlord cannot expect you to stay until your lease is up, because your home is no longer habitable due to the risk of disease.

If you can't find anywhere else to live, you can try making a homeless application to the council's housing department. The council should class you as homeless if it is not reasonable for you to stay in your current accommodation because of rats, cockroaches or other pests which pose a health risk.

If the problem is particularly severe, you may be entitled to compensation.

What if the pests are coming from next door?

You may suspect that your neighbours are responsible for attracting pests into the area, because, for example, they have a lot of rubbish piled up in their garden or yard. In this case, your first step should be to talk to your neighbours and ask them to deal with the problem. You could also try talking to their landlord. The page on dealing with antisocial behaviour has useful information on dealing with difficult neighbours.

If this doesn't work, you can contact the council's environmental health department, who can serve a notice on your neighbours ordering them to clear up the infestation and carry out any repair or cleaning work necessary to prevent further problems. If they don't comply with the notice, the council can deal with the problem itself, and charge your neighbours for the work.

What if the council won't help me?

If the environmental health department refuses to take action, you may be able to raise an action in the sheriff court yourself. Taking court action can be complicated and sometimes slow. It can also be expensive, unless you are entitled to legal aid to help pay your legal costs.

You may also be able to challenge the council's decision not to take action by way of judicial review. However, this can be a complicated process, so get advice from a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice if you are considering taking this course of action. Use the Advice Services Directory to find help near you.

You may also be able to make a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

What if I have bats in my home?

Bats can sometimes take up residence in the eaves and roof spaces of your home, but unlike mice, cockroaches or other household intruders, they are not pests. They do not cause damage to the fabric of your home and incidences of bats passing diseases onto humans are extremely rare.

Bats and their roosts are protected by law: it's illegal to kill, injure or capture a bat or to deliberately disturb its roost. If you have bats in your home, you must get in touch with your nearest Scottish Natural Heritage office before doing anything which may disturb their roost, such as carrying out repairs or improvements to your roof or loft.

You can find out more about bats and what to do if you find them in your home at the Bat Conservation Trust website.

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