Under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949, if on any land it appears to the local authority, that steps should be taken for the destruction of rats or mice or otherwise for keeping the land free from rats and mice, they may serve on the owner or occupier a notice requiring him to take, within such reasonable period as may be specified, such reasonable steps for the purpose aforesaid as may be so specified.
What works can the local authority require?
Section 4 provides that the works normally required will be the removal of waste but any such notice may in particular require—
(a) the application to the land of any form of treatment specified in the notice;
(b) the carrying out on the land of any structural repairs or other works so specified,
and may prescribe the times at which any treatment required by the notice is to be carried out.
[s.4(2) Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949]
How long must the local authority give to comply with the works?
A “reasonable period” must be specified in the notice allowing time to comply with the necessary works.
Where must the notice be served?
Section 10 of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 provides that Section 285 Public Health Act 1936 applies in relation to the service of notices on owners or occupiers and which reads:
285 Service of notices, &c.
Any notice, order, consent, demand or other document which is required or authorised by or under this Act to be given to or served on any person may, in any case for which no other provision is made by this Act, be given or served either—
(a)by delivering it to that person; or
(b)in the case of a coroner, or a medical officer of health, by leaving it or sending it in a prepaid letter addressed to him, at either his residence or his office and, in the case of any other officer of a council, by leaving it or sending it in a prepaid letter addressed to him, at his office; or
(c)in the case of any other person, by leaving it or sending it in a prepaid letter addressed to him, at his usual or last known residence; or
(d)in the case of an incorporated company or body, by delivering it to their secretary or clerk at their registered or principal office, or by sending it in a prepaid letter addressed to him at that office; or
(e)in the case of a document to be given to or served on a person as being the owner of any premises by virtue of the fact that he receives the rackrent thereof as agent for another, or would so receive it if the premises were let at a rackrent, by leaving it, or sending it in a prepaid letter addressed to him, at his place of business; or
(f)in the case of a document to be given to or served on the owner or the occupier of any premises, if it is not practicable after reasonable inquiry to ascertain the name and address of the person to or on whom it should be given or served, or if the premises are unoccupied, by addressing it to the person concerned by the description of “owner” or “occupier” of the premises (naming them) to which it relates, and delivering it to some person on the premises, or, if there is no person on the premises to whom it can be delivered, by affixing it, or a copy of it, to some conspicuous part of the premises.
Can I appeal the notice?
There is a statutory right of appeal but only if the works required to be completed under the notice are “structural works” and an appeal must be lodged within 21 days [s.300(2) Public Health Act 1936].
It is respectfully submitted that if the local authority gave less than 21 days for the execution of works that would not be a “reasonable period” because it would be less than the statutory right of appeal (this is untested to my knowledge but a good argument if nothing else).
If the works requested are non structural in nature (for example the removal of rubbish) it would seem there is no right of appeal. Whether this is incompatible with Article 6, Human Rights Act 1998 remains to be seen in particular because a failure to comply with the notice is both a civil and criminal offence (on prosecution):
In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. …
What action can be taken if there is no appeal or I don’t appeal?
If no appeal is available or you fail to lodge an appeal within the 21 days, the local authority may themselves take the steps and recover from you any expenses reasonably incurred by them in doing so [s.5(1) Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949]. In addition, a person who fails to take any steps as required by the notice shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding in the case of a first offence level 3 on the standard scale, and in the case of a second or any subsequent offence level 3 on the standard scale [s.5(2)].
Any expenses are recoverable as a simple contract debt [s.7(1)]. Where there is no appeal available (due to not being structural works), any hearing seeking to recover expenses may provide an opportunity to defend the notice. However, as there are no grounds of appeal available, it seems the only two defences might be (a) the fact that no appeal is available may be incompatible with Article 6 or (b) the service of the notice was so outrageous in its defiance of logic or accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question to be decided could have arrived at it [known as Wednesbury unreasonableness].
In proceedings for the recovery of any expenses incurred by the local authority, it shall not be open to you to raise by way of a defence, any question which you could have raised on an appeal [s.7(3)].
Where a local authority have incurred expenses for the repayment of which the owner of the premises is liable, those expenses, together with interest from the date of service of a demand for the expenses, may be recovered from the person who is the owner of the premises at the date when the works are completed, or, if he has ceased to be the owner of the premises before the date when a demand for the expenses is served, either from him or from the person who is the owner at the date when the demand is served, and, as from the date of the completion of the works, the expenses and interest accrued shall, until recovered, be a charge on the premises and on all estates and interests therein [s.291(1) Public Health Act 1936].
The tenant may in certain circumstances be ordered to pay any amounts due to the local authority by way of deducting from the rent and thereby ordered to pay the local authority the rent instead of paying the landlord [s.291(2)].
The local authority may also recover any expenses incurred from a managing agent although in this case, it is limited to the amount of rent in hand the agent holds (so the agent can never be personally liable to pay the debt) [s.294 Public Health Act 1936].
Waste disposal offences
When defending or arguing such notices, it is worthy of note that tenants are under duties to dispose of waste properly not just under the terms of any normal tenancy agreement.
Under regulation 10, The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006, it is a duty of every occupier in a HMO to:
store and dispose of litter in accordance with the arrangements made by the manager …
Under section 45 Environmental Protection Act 1990, it is the duty of every local authority to collect certain household waste. Under section 46, waste must be placed by occupiers into certain receptacles and a person who fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with those requirements shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.