A semi-guest note on a pest infestation nuisance county court case involving leaseholders. Interesting on both liability and quantum.
Ojo & Ojo v London Borough of Hackney. County Court at Clerkenwell & Shoreditch 4 November 2015
The Claimants were secure tenants of the Defendant from 1983 and became leaseholders in 1995. They lived in a two storey maisonette in a block of 50 flats. They had experienced an infestation of mice since 2007. The experts for each party agreed that the mice had gained access to the premises via vertical ducts which passed through the kitchen and bathroom, and which contained various drains and pipes from more than one property. The ducts were retained by the Defendant as freeholder.
From 2007, the Defendant had carried out block treatment works, putting down poison. The mice continued to be a persistent problem for the Claimants until early 2014, when the Claimants had installed a new kitchen and had sealed up holes. Between early 2014 and the date of trial (1 October 2015), the First Claimant had not observed any mice. The Second Claimant had seen a mouse and they could be heard in the service duct.
The Claimants brought proceedings for damages for nuisance and an order requiring the Defendant to abate the nuisance. They submitted that the Defendant had failed to take reasonable steps to abate the nuisance and prevent mice from entering their maisonette. The Defendant denied creating the nuisance and said that it took reasonable steps to abate it. It also said that the Claimants had failed to carry out works to their maisonette and that the condition of the maisonette caused or contributed to the infestation.
DJ Manners found that the presence of mice in the premises for such a long period of time and at the level described amounted to a nuisance. The Defendant did not create the nuisance, but its block treatment programme had not been an adequate response. The experts were agreed that the duct should have been proofed against mice. She noted that the Claimants were leaseholders, rather than tenants, and they had the ability to mouse proof their home by filling in holes from the inside. She also found that the general cleanliness and repair to the maisonette had not been of a high standard and that grease on the walls and kitchen floor would have encouraged the mice. Overall, the Defendant was liable in nuisance.
She declined the invitation to assess damages by attributing an artificial rental value to the premises. She awarded an overall amount of £2,500 per annum, reduced by 50% to reflect the fact that the Claimants failed to carry out any internal proofing until 2013/2014. She did not make an order specifying works, given that the problems appeared to have been sorted out.
Liz Davies, counsel for the Claimants
Giles Peaker, Anthony Gold, solicitor for the Claimants