Life For Rent: How Can I Stop My Landlord From Letting Himself In?

Housing advice columnist Vicky Spratt deals with a landlord who keeps entering his tenant's flat to leave rat poison.
Life For Rent housing advice columnist Vicky Spratt
Illustration by James Burgess
A housing advice column for all your renting problems from VICE UK columnist Vicky Spratt. Got a burning question? Email

I live in a houseshare and dead rats recently started turning up everywhere. Like, we found one underneath our dining table. Then another one under the sofa. Etc, etc. We honestly thought the place was cursed until our landlord clarified that he'd been letting himself into the place and putting rat poison under our kitchen cooker. Apparently, the previous tenants kept chickens (!) and left chicken feed everywhere, thus attracting said rats. The landlord says he is "dealing with it". I'm freaked out and disgusted. Is there anything I can do? Surely this violates some kind of health and safety law!


The picture you paint sounds like a horrific cross between the bubonic plague and the latest series of Stranger Things, so it’s completely understandable that you are both freaked out and disgusted. I am too.

Reassuring as it may be to know that the dead rats are indeed the result of your landlord laying rat poison and not dark magic from another realm, most tenancy agreements state that landlords are required to give their tenants at least 24 hours notice before entering the property under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. He really can’t go sneaking around like that. If you can, hold onto any proof that he has entered the property without your permission in case you need it further down the line.

You have done your duty as a tenant by raising the issue with him and you are, I presume, not making like the previous inhabitants and scattering food all over the floors so there isn’t much more you can do. Your landlord says he is dealing with it and it certainly seems that he is, to an extent. The question is whether he’s doing enough?

Rats, as with other pests, can be seriously harmful to human health so if poison isn’t working you can ask your landlord to pay for professional pest control. If he has an ounce of sense, he will do this because nobody wants to be the owner of a rat-infested building. If he won’t play ball, you can step things up a notch and involve the council’s environmental health department who can carry out an assessment and may order him to sort it out.


Sadly, some landlords take badly to criticism and attempt to evict tenants who complain. This is known as a revenge eviction. It’s worth noting that if your council’s environmental health department decides to take action, this may offer you some protection from that so, if you’re not making progress with your landlord directly, it’s definitely a good idea to get them involved. You can find your local council here by typing in your postcode.

I’m really sorry to hear about your very gross situation, and I hope it gets resolved soon. Remember that you are paying your landlord for a service, you don’t owe him anything other than your rent. In return, you’re absolutely right to expect a safe, rat-free place to live.

I've been living in a shared house in Peckham for three years now. It is the light of my life. We couldn't imagine living with anyone else. This all sounds very dramatic but it's to make it clear that this isn't just a house, it became a base for five young people to build a life.

Since we moved in, the upstairs bathroom has leaked. The downstairs toilet was leaking for a year. Then the bathroom leak ran down to the hallway and through our lights. Black mould ruined the plasterwork. We realised rats were chewing the downstairs toilet pipe and they shat everywhere in our cupboard.

The estate agent came round, smelt the rat piss, and left saying we needed to clear our things from the cupboard. We cleaned it and I stuffed wire wool in the hole the rats were coming through. The agent never came to help again. We stopped using the shower, meaning we have one bathroom between five. The coving from the wall in my housemate's room even fell onto his bed, narrowly missing his head.


Every little issue they see they blame us for. If we report it then we're made to feel like troublemakers. So we got the council in to see this home which had rats, mould, and one bathroom. Turns out the landlord didn't have an HMO license and the council went in on him, telling him to restructure the place and threatening fines. They said we could get rent back for the fact there wasn't a license.

The landlord came round UNANNOUNCED and said we'd made things worse for ourselves. Since this, all repairs have been left. We were notified the council got the money as he got an HMO, but have seen no compensation. Then we get a notification saying he's putting the rent up an extra £50 a week. They're saying the rise is compulsory because of market value.

This was a very unstructured way of saying: I need to know how to resist any rent rise. Then I need to know how to complain to the council that we turned to them for help and all they did was get money from him and allow him to get away with fixing fuck all.

Ugh. Stress.

Oh mate. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now but this is going to be OK. Can you make some tea? Hold the warm cup in your hands. Now, sit down and take a deep breath.

A few years ago, when I was living in a tiny room, not legally big enough to be rented out, with people who, while very pleasant, I had little in common with. On Saturday mornings, while they passive-aggressively clattered around, I’d sit in my room on the bed which I had to clamber onto because it filled the entire space play Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Our House”, look out of the window and dream of one day having what you have.


You are one of the lucky ones who live with people they not only like but love. Your house sounds like one of those houses, the sort I envy whenever I visit because it feels more like a family home than my actual family home ever did.

You’ve come together to create a space where you’ve been able to become the people you’re supposed to be, in our country’s capital city at a time of extreme political uncertainty and increasing economic pressure courtesy of rising house prices and stagnating wages. That’s no mean feat.

Now, you feel all this is at risk. Your home – the one place in the world where you feel safe, where you can always be yourself – is at stake.

There’s a lot going on here, so I’m going to take each problem in turn:

It sounds like your letting agents are making things worse. This is something I hear a lot. You are not ‘troublemakers’ for flagging serious problems like bits of wall falling off FFS, you’re doing the right thing and carrying out your responsibilities – as tenants – to let your landlord know about any serious issues.

FWIW, repairs like the grouting are your landlord’s responsibility, not yours. You should not have been asked to sort that out yourself.

Your lettings agent also clearly doesn’t understand inflation (to be fair, not many people do) so it’s definitely worth asking them to justify the increases given the condition of the property.

But, sadly, we need to be realistic here. You live in Peckham, a desirable part of south London where gentrification knows no bounds and rents are rising faster than other boroughs. There is probably some mug who will pay the new price if you don’t just so they can stumble home from Bussey Building.


You could take your rent increase challenge to a First Tier Tribunal. However, it sounds like you want to stay in this house. By taking further action, the sad truth is that you could worsen the relationship with your landlord who, by the sounds of it, you’ve rubbed along OK with for the best part of three years.

Can you cut out the middleman and request a meeting with your landlord directly in order to try to come to an agreement? That might be the best way to resist a rent rise whilst also getting the repairs it sounds as though your home desperately needs.

However, I’m sorry to say that the decision to put your rent up could actually be an eviction by proxy – a way to get rid of tenants who are deemed to have made too much of a fuss about conditions. If attempting to have a mature, adult conversation with your landlord doesn’t work, you could go back to the council’s environmental health team to see if they will step in.

But, as you’ve already experienced, local authorities all over the country are overstretched and underfunded. Unfortunately, this means that housing enforcement can be patchy at best, which is why grassroots organisations like the London Renters Union are filling in the gaps.

Nonetheless, the fact that your landlord didn’t have an HMO (House in Multiple Occupancy) licence is a big deal. You can pursue a Rent Repayment Order which is what the council were referring to when they said “compensation”. However, it’s something you will have to apply for. It won’t happen automatically.


You’ve paid your rent on time, every month for three years. It is your landlord who has not kept their end of the bargain by carrying out repairs during that time or getting the necessary licenses.

Partners, jobs, hopes, dreams and fairweather friends come and go but you can always go home. Unless, of course, you’re renting – then you can go home until your landlord decides to pull the rug out from under you. I know it’s gut punchingly unfair.

You can’t put a price on what you have with your shared house. Unfortunately, too many landlords and letting agents don’t see themselves in the business of providing homes – they think of property as an asset to be bought, sold and leveraged. With more people relying on the private rented sector to provide them with a home, this attitude really needs to change.

There is one more thing – you might not be ready to hear this, but it’s important. You are going to be OK, even if your home is forced to disband. It won’t be easy, it will be stressful and you might have to move to another part of London where prices haven’t gone up quite so much. Such is the fickle nature of living in a city where shiny, luxury glass and steel structures host empty rooms while the rest of us scrabble around for somewhere affordable to live.

If this happens, though, I know you will create the same supportive, nurturing home that you have in Peckham. The house you rent is only the container for that – you can take what’s inside with you.