In 2020, two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from a respiratory disease after living in mouldy conditions at his family’s housing association flat.
The tragedy put damp and mould in rental accommodation into the spotlight, with government and regulators pledging to do more to get landlords to deal with damp and mould in their rented properties.
Yet according to a government survey published at the end of 2022, 10% of all privately rented homes in England still suffer from damp.
Damp and mould shouldn’t be an issue in any property. Not only is the health of tenants at risk, but also the property itself could be seriously damaged.
Landlords can keep their tenants and properties safe through regular inspections and proactively fixing the causes of damp and mould.
If a tenant reports a problem with damp and mould, landlords need to respond as a priority.
This article explains everything you need to know about managing damp and mould in your rental property.
Damp is essentially moisture. If parts of your property are exposed to dampness for too long, they will experience mould growth.
Mould is when fungus starts to grow on something. Fungus thrives in warm, wet conditions, like a damp home.
There are three main types of damp:
Penetrating damp is when water enters the building fabric via a leak inside or outside the property. It could be caused by a dripping tap or missing roof slates.
Rising damp is when moisture enters the building fabric from the ground. The building soaks the moisture up like a sponge and makes its way through tiny wall gaps.
This is the most common form of moisture in homes. It is caused when warm air meets a cold surface, or when there are high humidity levels.
Mould releases spores which contain toxins that can cause respiratory issues - especially if you are asthmatic, have a lung condition, or have a weakened immune system.
It can cause many unpleasant illnesses, from headaches to skin rashes and even a fever or bronchitis.
Children are particularly at risk from health issues caused by mould; as we have already seen, these can be fatal.
Landlords are responsible for issues relating to the building itself. This means that rising damp and penetrating damp are almost always the landlord’s responsibility.
If mould is affecting your tenant’s health or stopping them from using some rooms, then you should investigate and fix the problem urgently.
A better approach is to perform regular inspections and proactively deal with issues that could eventually create rising damp or penetrating damp. For example, some of the pipes in the bathroom may be old and rusty. If you spot this, you can plan to replace them before they leak.
Condensation is less straightforward. It can be caused if the property has poor insulation, which is the landlord’s responsibility. It’s also the landlord’s job to provide suitable ventilation methods, like trickle vents on the windows.
But tenants often create condensation simply by doing everyday things like showering, cooking, or drying wet clothes indoors. This means the tenant must take responsibility for ventilating their home correctly when doing these things.
The problem with condensation is that it can be difficult to tell what the root cause of the problem is.
This has led to poor practices in the past, with some unscrupulous landlords blaming damp and mould problems on tenants’ lifestyles and refusing to fix them.
However, this usually worsens the problem, which will upset your tenant and eventually damage your property.
If your tenant complains about condensation in your property, a good approach is to:
Arrange for a damp survey to be carried out
Improve the insulation.
Improve the ventilation.
Explain to tenants how they can reduce condensation levels in their home.
Several pieces of legislation and regulations govern landlord responsibilities regarding damp and mould. They are:
Under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, landlords are responsible for keeping properties suitable for human habitation. Part of that means ensuring that living in a property won’t make tenants sick.
The Deregulation Act 2015 says that landlords have to respond to complaints about damp, mould, or condensation within a reasonable timeframe, as well as investigate and fix them if necessary.
Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is used by environmental health officers to assess hazards in residential housing. Damp and mould are considered mandatory repairs under the HHSRS, meaning landlords must carry them out quickly and correctly.
You cannot and should not ignore a damp problem or your tenant’s requests to investigate or fix the issue. There are many reasons why:
It could harm your tenant’s health.
The local authority could order you to fix the mould if it is a health hazard.
Your tenant could claim compensation.
Your property could be damaged.
Even if you think the cause of the problem is the tenant, it’s often better to deal with the problem yourself to keep them happy, avoid legal action, and keep your property in good condition.
Usually, you should only ask the tenant to deal with an issue if they have been consistently negligent.
If your tenant reports damp or mould to you, you have 14 days to respond in writing, telling them how you will deal with the problem and when.
It’s a good idea to also do this if you spot the problem during an inspection so they know what to expect.
Ideally, you’ll investigate the problem yourself or have a tradesperson look at it.
Initially, try to find out:
What repairs are required?
Has your tenant’s health been affected?
Is there any damage to the building or the tenant’s possessions?
Common causes of damp and mould include:
Faulty heating systems
Missing roof tiles and guttering
Cracked walls and rotten window frames
If you can’t see the cause then you could have rising damp. This could be because your property doesn’t have a damp course, or because the damp course it has is damaged.
If the cause of the problem is relatively obvious or the extent of the damp or mould is limited then you can usually manage it yourself.
But if the cause isn’t obvious or there is a lot of damp and mould, you may wish to hire a specialist like this company.
Repair or replace anything that has been damaged. This could include plaster, skirting boards or flooring. You also need to redecorate the affected room.
As mentioned earlier, damp could be caused by a wider issue. Make sure you fix these root causes or make improvements to the property that deals with them, otherwise they are likely to come back again.
Photo by Dương Nhân: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-bed-linen-near-brown-wooden-window-frame-4389917/
One of the best ways to deal with damp and mould is for you and your tenant to understand what causes it and avoid it altogether.
Talk to your tenant about condensation, damp and mould and give them these tips:
One of the ways condensation is created is when warm air hits cold surfaces. This is why it builds up on windows during colder months. Tell your tenant to keep their temperature on a very low setting all the time. Most experts recommend keeping the temperature above 15/16 degrees.
This is probably the most important piece of advice for tenants. Make sure that they open windows or use extractor fans when doing things like:
Having a shower or bath.
Tenants should also use lids when cooking with saucepans to avoid steam escaping, and try to dry washing outside if possible.
Avoid closing off areas of the house that could be prone to damp, mould, or condensation. For example, air out cupboards regularly and try to keep doors open during the day.
If your tenant has done the above and there is still condensation, you might consider providing them with a dehumidifier. This is a device that takes moisture out of the air and there is a range of different options available. This is particularly useful in the winter when it may be too cold to ventilate the house adequately.
However, a dehumidifier won’t be suitable for damp issues as the underlying problem won’t be fixed.
A landlord's role is more about ensuring that damp and mould don’t form in the first place. Here’s what to do:
Planned preventive maintenance (PPM) is when a landlord takes a proactive approach to property inspection and repair. By inspecting your property annually and replacing or repairing things before they go wrong, you can ensure that you spot damp and mould early, or better yet, stop it from happening altogether.
Some tenants fail to report leaks or serious damp and mould problems. In these situations, you’ll still be responsible for ensuring the home is habitable, which is another reason why regular inspections are so important.
The longer a leak is left, the worse the problem becomes. Don’t waste time when it comes to these repairs, deal with them as a priority.
A damp-proof course is the best way to avoid rising damp in your property. Most newer properties will have one, but older homes often don’t.
It involves having a special damp-proof material injected into the outer walls of the building just above the ground. This creates an impermeable barrier that stops moisture from entering the walls.
Installing a damp-proof course can cost anything between £200 and £2,000, depending on your property and the supplier, so it’s worth doing some research and finding a good deal.
Products such as anti-mould paint and damp sealant are useful for stopping damp coming through your walls and can help to stop mould from forming in the first place.
There are several improvements you can make to ensure your property is well-ventilated. Examples include:
Fit trickle vents on windows.
Install an extractor fan above the cooker and in the bathroom.
Add an air vent to the loft hatch.
Add air vents to the eaves in the loft.
If you’ve added ventilation, then you may wish to add insulation too. This will ensure the property is a comfortable temperature for your tenants. But it will also help avoid condensation forming.
Here are some insulation measures to consider:
Add loft insulation.
Replace old windows and doors.
Insulate your external walls.
Add floor insulation.
Use lagging on pipes and a jacket on your water tank.
Add draught-proofing to doors and windows.
This article shows that prevention is better than cure when it comes to damp and mould.
One of the ways you can prevent it in your property is to use software like EVO to plan and carry out regular inspections and maintenance.
By transforming how maintenance, management, and repairs are delivered, EVO connects owners, residents, tradespeople, and property managers together to reduce costs and ensure transparency.
Our easy-to-use digital solution features:
Online dashboard: All your people, places, repairs, and service history all in one place, with a real-time calendar, messaging, and secure document storage.
Helpdesk: There to help with all repair and planned maintenance needs fast.
Repairs: Certified trades available 24 hours a day, ensuring a fast response and quality workmanship.
Reminders: Ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.
Service history: All jobs and services are logged and easily accessible, with completion notes and images.
Compliance: Gas safety compliance, electrical testing, and more, with digital records and service reports all in one place.
Emergency cover: Providing trustworthy 24/7 emergency services in case of serious issues.
Get in touch to learn how we can help you manage your inspection and repairs more effectively.
PHOTO BY EVO
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