Dealing with unwanted pests in your unoccupied property

It’s not unusual to find the odd spider, fly or even mouse in a home that is permanently occupied, and in small numbers, these pests are easy to remove and won’t cause too much harm to the property or the occupants. However, once a property is unoccupied for a long period of time, it can attract a larger number of pests which can lead to infestations and damage to your property if not managed early on.

So, what are pests, what damage can they cause and how can you stop them from taking over your property?

What are considered pests?

Destructive, unhygienic, or generally bothersome, any animal, insect or plant can be considered a pest if it starts to affect your quality of life and impact your surroundings. Some of the more common pests in the UK, that can be found in and around your property are:

  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Cockroaches
  • Silverfish
  • Fleas
  • Moths
  • Japanese knotweed
  • Common ivy

What damage can pests cause?

Rodents such as rats and mice will happily make any property their home, especially during the winter months when they seek additional warmth and food. Because both rats and mice are prolific breeders, and the rate in which young rodents grow and reproduce, population numbers can explode in the right conditions.

If left unmanaged, you could have a rodent infestation which quickly becomes a serious health hazard.

Not only do rodents themselves carry diseases, but the urine, faeces, and saliva that they leave behind is a serious health concern. If digested or inhaled, rodent secretion can cause infections such as Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) or Haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) just to name a couple, which can be lethal if left untreated.

Apart from the potential health risks that rodents bring, they can also cause serious damage to your property. One of the more obvious signs of rodent damage is chewed wood, furniture, and clothing. You may find doors, skirting boards, cupboards and even the walls have been chewed, which for sanitary and visual reasons, will likely have to be replaced.

Rats and mice will chew just about anything to keep their ever-growing teeth worn down, so wiring is no exception. Chewed internet cables, TV wires or electric appliances maybe annoying, but damage to the electric wires that are hidden in walls or surrounded by insulation can shoot sparks, causing dangerous electrical fires. In many cases, insurance policies will not cover damage or fire caused by pests, so make sure you monitor any rodent activity and implement measures to keep their numbers at a minimum.

Although not always as easy to spot, cockroaches can be found in occupied homes, vacant properties, commercial buildings, and public spaces – anywhere that harbours any type of food waste or damp will attract cockroaches.

Like rodents, cockroaches also carry diseases and viruses in their urine and faeces, which can be easily transmitted to humans.

Cockroaches should not cause too much physical damage to your property as they don’t have powerful teeth like rodents, but cockroach infestations can be very hard to get rid of without professional help. Once you have a cockroach infestation, most councils will not allow you to rent a property until the infestation has been removed as it is considered a serious health violation. Even properties in probate or that have been vacant for a long period of time, may not be allowed to complete until the infestation has been dealt with. Professional exterminators are costly and most home insurance is not likely to cover the extermination of infestations.

Gardens or vacant land can come with their own risks – invasive or destructive plants and trees. Two of the most common and destructive plants found in the UK are the Japanese knotweed and the Common ivy.

Japanese knotweed is an invasive species that unlike most plants, rarely re-seeds to germinate new plants. However, this makes the Japanese knotweed more difficult to remove as it has an extensive root system known as rhizomes, which sprout off smaller shoots to create more plants. The roots are notoriously tough to remove as they embed themselves deep into the soil and are known to cause significant structural damage to the foundations of buildings, plumbing and road surfaces. So much so, that some banks are hesitant to lend to sellers if Japanese knotweed has been found on the property. Potential buyers must be legally informed if you have Japanese knotweed on your property using the TA6 Form (Seller’s Property Information Form).

If you spot Japanese knotweed in your garden, avoid removing it yourself. Strict laws prevent you from disposing Japanese knotweed or the surrounding soil, in regular garden or household waste. The plant must be disposed of by approved facilities. Instead, ask a professional to confirm the identification of the plant and how to safely remove it.

Be warned though, it can take years to destroy the plant and until it has been completely eradicated, it could affect the sale of your property.

Although not as devastating as Japanese knotweed, Common ivy is still despised by many gardeners and property owners alike. Ivy grows as a creeping vine at alarming rates, and will take over shrubs, stumps, fences, and buildings if left unmanaged. Favoured by some who like the way ivy covers walls or even entire buildings, it also considered a pest due to how hard it is to remove once established and it’s ability to embed it’s self into soft mortar and holes in walls.

Ivy can be managed by cutting it back regularly, but to remove it completely, it will need to be poisoned using a rootkiller or glyphosate at the severed stems. Those responsible for unoccupied properties should check for ivy in the garden or on the building regularly to prevent the spread and damage the vine could cause.

How to prevent pests from taking over your unoccupied property

For properties that are permanently occupied, it is much easier for residents to keep an eye open for rodent droppings, the quick movement of a cockroach or a sprouting plant. But if you are responsible for an unoccupied property, this can be much trickier. By following some these basic guidelines, you could help prevent the infestation of unwanted pests in your unoccupied property:

  • Seek advice from a professional to confirm what pests you have and how best to remove them.
  • Visit your unoccupied property and check all areas of the house including cupboards, bathrooms, and the dark corners of the building for droppings, stains, and unpleasant odours.
  • Check your garden, any outbuildings, the fence- line, driveway and building walls for any spouting or creeping plants.
  • Keep the property clean and tidy as much as you can. Remove any food waste or organic material in or around the property that might attract pests and discard of it properly. Keep surfaces, cupboards, and floors clear of crumbs and spills by using cleaning products.
  • Look for any cracks or gaps in and around the property as this will provide easy access for pests to enter, and seal what you can. Check the state of your mortar and for any gaps in the fascia boards, soffits, and windows to prevent creeping vines from penetrating in.
  • Keep gutters and drains outside the property clear, as a build-up of standing water can attract pests.
  • Setting traps, spraying, or installing anti-pest controls around the property can help keep numbers under control.

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