Cases of damp and mould are common in the private rented sector. But who is responsible for dealing with damp and mould in rented property?
In this article, we look at the causes of damp and mould, whose responsibility it is and how to deal with it – along with the question of tenants’ rights.
What is Damp and Mould?
Damp is the build-up of moisture which can lead to mould forming inside the property, such as black mould on the ceiling above a window or mould on skirting boards.
Condensation is the most common cause of damp in rented properties. It happens when moisture in the air comes into contact with cold surfaces, and which can then result in mould growth. It can be caused by tenants failing to ventilate or heat their home correctly. Another instigator is poor insulation, together with faulty heating and ventilation systems – the latter being the responsibility of the landlord.
On the plus side, condensation can be dealt with reasonably easily (although it does need to be managed over a certain length of time). First though, it’s important to identify what is causing the wet looking spots on walls in the first place.
Rising damp occurs when moisture beneath a building is soaked up into the bricks or concrete. All buildings should have a damp proof course, consisting of a layer of water-proof material aimed at preventing rising damp. When this fails – perhaps because it has been damaged due to recent work on the building - then damp can occur inside the property, causing mould on wallpaper and other areas and which can be very difficult to remove. Thankfully, damp and mould in rental property is not a particularly common problem.
Damp and mould caused by rising damp is not down to the tenant to fix.
Penetrating damp is caused by leaks allowing water into the property, for instance, missing roof tiles, broken window frames or faulty plumbing. The wet conditions allow surface mould to grow, with the result black mould on the outside of the house becomes visible.
It’s easier to deal with than rising damp, provided you can identify the source.
Penetrating damp is usually a structural issue, so it is the landlord who should be the one to deal with it.
How can Damp and Mould be identified?
Is there black mould growth on the walls, ceilings or skirting boards? Does the atmosphere feel cold? Are there signs of water or condensation on the window sills? Damp patches on the walls generally indicate there is a problem with damp. Or it might be that paintwork is discolouring or mould under wallpaper or plasterwork is peeling away? These are all ways to identify damp in a property.
The Health Risks of Living with Mould
You may be wondering: ‘Can a damp house make you sick?’ Mould and fungus on walls is not a severe health hazard; however, it can adversely affect health – especially in children and the elderly whose immune systems are weaker. So, yes, it is a health and safety issue.
If it’s in a bedroom then you have to consider the effects sleeping in a damp room will have on the occupants.
The mould fungi can be inhaled or come into contact with skin causing:
- Difficulty breathing and asthma attacks
- Skin irritation and rashes
- Allergic reactions
- Infections such as sinusitis
Is Mould the Landlord’s Responsibility?
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 states that it is the landlord’s responsibility to resolve damp and mould issues caused by structural faults. If a surveyor finds rising damp or penetrative damp, this is up to the landlord to put right.
However, if damp is caused by condensation, it could be the result of the way the tenants are using the property. For instance:
- Drying clothes indoors
- Showering and not opening the window
- Cooking without opening the window
- Not heating the property sufficiently
Condensation can also be caused by poor insulation, or faulty heating and ventilation systems. These would be considered structural issues and so are the responsibility of the landlord.
Determining whether mould caused by condensation is due to the tenant’s lifestyle habits or structural issues with the property can be tricky.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 is an amendment to the original 1984 bill which was introduced in spring 2019. It outlines that the landlord must make sure the property is habitable and safe to live in. That means repairing such items as faulty heating, leaking window frames, broken extractor fans and wall cracks etc.
It’s also worth remembering that, according to the Deregulation Act, a tenant who writes to their landlords complaining about mould and damp must be replied to within a decent timescale. The problem must then be investigated and any necessary repairs carried out.
First Steps When Mould Is Spotted
If you are a tenant who has spotted mould or damp in your rental home you must tell your landlord straight away. The landlord will arrange an inspection to identify the cause of the damp and mould and carry out any repairs they are responsible for.
He or she will probably be grateful for you alerting them to the issue as the longer it goes on the more damage it can do, and the more expensive to fix.
Can I Withhold Rent for Mould?
If the landlord won’t make the necessary repairs you should continue to pay your rent otherwise you could be subject to repossession or eviction.
If your landlord refuses to undertake a repair or will not respond to you, you can contact your local authority who will carry out an inspection of your home and can order your landlord to carry out repairs or improve conditions.
Can a Landlord Deduct Deposit for Mould?
If there is mould in a property at the end of a tenancy, that was not there at the start, landlords can deduct money from the deposit if it can be proved that the mould was caused by the actions of the tenant and is above the level of ‘fair wear and tear’.
Is Mould Considered Normal Wear and Tear?
This will depend on the cause of mould. If there is evidence that the mould has been caused by the negligence of the tenants and advice and regular maintenance has been supplied by the landlord, then compensation can be claimed.
Can I End My Tenancy Early Due to Mould?
You need to end your tenancy correctly if you decide to move out. If you don't, you could still have to pay rent after you leave. Check your tenancy agreement to see if you have an early break clause.
Condensation and Mould: Advice for Tenants
Tenants are expected to properly ventilate and heat the property so that damp doesn't build up. This is sometimes called 'acting in a tenant like manner'.
Landlords shouldn’t make unreasonable demands. For example, requiring clothes to be dried outside when there is no access to outdoor space.
Everyday activities like cooking, showering and drying clothes create moisture that can lead to condensation.
Tenants can help reduce damp and mould by:
- Covering pans when cooking
- Using extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms
- Closing internal doors when cooking or showering
- Leaving a gap between furniture and external walls
- Drying clothes outdoors or use a vented tumble dryer
- Opening bedroom windows for 5-10 minutes in the morning
- Keeping the property adequately heated. It usually helps to have a low background temperature of at least 15 degrees in all rooms.
Preventing Mould: Advice for Landlords
For landlords, dealing with damp issues will minimise the risk of mould growing in the property. If damp is suspected, call in a surveyor to investigate. Dealing with the problem promptly could save money on maintenance in the long run. The issue will need to be dealt with at source – a DIY clean-up job on its own will not suffice, as the damp will reappear.
Here are some ways to prevent mould in your property:
- Ensure the property is well ventilated
- Maintain gutters and roofs to prevent leaks
- Ensure all plumbing is in good working order
- Repair any rotten window frames
- Improve the insulation of the property
- Install extractor fans in the bathrooms
- Repair or replace faulty damp proof course
For more information on letting property in central London, Paddington, Knightsbridge, Marble Arch or South Kensington, call our agents today.