Tenant or landlord: who is responsible for mould and damp?
We all know that many Londoners are struggling to cope with damp and mould in their homes. Damp problems affect some 6 per cent of homes in the capital with serious condensation being the most common form. Vulnerable Londoners are especially at risk from the negative health impacts associated with cold and damp.
Tenants should change lifestyle
There is a lot of confusion about who’s responsible for mould and damp in a rented property. Most of the misunderstandings occur because tenants and landlords don’t appreciate there are different causes of damp and without a professional to diagnose the problem, it’s hard to provide the right fix.
From a legal perspective, if the diagnosis suggests the cause is rising or penetrating damp, this means it’s the landlord’s responsibility to solve the problem. This is because both of these are caused by issues with the property’s structure.
Usually, where arguments occur between landlords and tenants, it’s when damp is caused by condensation, which is often a result of the tenant’s lifestyle. For example, every time we cook, hang washing inside, have a shower or even boil a kettle, we create lots of moisture. Plus, the more people there are in a property, the more moisture is produced. If this moisture can’t escape, and a well-insulated home without proper ventilation will prevent it from doing so, then condensation forms. This can quickly lead to damp and mould.
It can be tricky to know who’s responsible for resolving a damp issue. This is because if the tenants are causing the excessive moisture, some landlords may feel it’s their responsibility to adjust their lifestyle accordingly.
Some easy ways to keep condensation under control are to open windows, dry washing outside and make sure the property is heated evenly. However, I tend to find that tenants aren’t keen to open windows during winter months and many don’t want to pay to heat the property while they’re out and about.
The reality is that although condensation can be minimised by the tenant changing their lifestyle, it may be impossible for them to prevent it altogether, especially in well-insulated properties. That means it’s better for landlords themselves to invest in ventilating the property to eradicate condensation, regardless of who’s to ‘blame’. Not doing anything could result in damage to the property’s structure and reduce its value.
Landlords should obey the law
Not only is it a good idea for a landlord to take responsibility for solving any damp issues, it’s also a legal requirement under the ‘repairing obligations’ set out in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. The Act states that the “structure and exterior of the dwelling-house” as well as “the supply of water, gas and electricity” and “heating and heating water” need to be kept in working order.
As rising and penetrating damp are caused by structural issues, landlords must secure a correct diagnosis and get the problem fixed. If condensation is a major problem, especially if mould is forming, it can also be considered a structural issue. This means moisture clearly can’t escape from the property. Ventilation should therefore be installed to prevent mould from forming, because that can be harmful to the tenant.
Landlord responsibilities for damp
The key responsibilities a landlord has when there are damp issues is to make sure a correct diagnosis is obtained and to carry out the treatment if it’s their responsibility – see above section on how to decide whose responsibility it is. This is because treating damp is a mandatory repair under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
If landlords adhere to the HHSRS it will help keep them on the right side of the law, protect the property’s value and ensure the tenant can live in the property safely.
Landlord responsibilities for mould
When mould forms in a tenanted property it’s important to make sure you deal with it quickly and effectively, once you have accurately identified the cause.
The HHSRS, which landlords need to abide by (see link below), stresses that landlords must ensure mould doesn’t affect a tenant’s physical and mental health. Mould is a nasty fungus to live with and is known to cause breathing difficulties. Tenants who suffer from asthma or rhinitis conditions, or are taking any cancer treatment, may suffer serious health problems if exposed to it, so it is best to tackle it quickly and correctly.
Landlord property management and repairs
A landlord’s duty to repair and maintain a property should be set out in the tenancy agreement. Obviously, a landlord can’t carry out repairs unless they know there is a problem, so the tenant has a responsibility to highlight issues as soon as they notice them.
If the tenancy started after 1st October 2015, once a problem has been reported, the landlord is legally obliged to respond to the tenant within 14 days. In writing they are required to state what they’re going to do and by when.
If the landlord doesn’t respond, the tenant can report the problem to their Local Authority, who can issue the landlord with a notice to fix the damp and mould. Under the new Retaliatory Eviction and the Deregulation Act 2015, if a landlord tries to evict the tenant within six months of a problem being reported in writing and not fixed, then it’s likely any Section 21 notice served can’t be enforced.