There are different types and sources of damp, but a build-up of condensation that results in mould is one of the most common problems in rented properties – and it’s often a source of dispute between landlords and tenants.
Condensation forms when there’s excess moisture in the air that can’t escape because of inadequate ventilation. The moisture settles on cooler surfaces and if it’s not wiped away, mould will start to form, beginning as small black/grey dots. If it’s not tackled, a more serious mould problem can develop and spread, and as well as causing damage to the property and its contents, mould spores can pose a significant threat to the health of your tenant if inhaled.
Many landlords feel that surface mould or mildew must have been caused by their tenants not ventilating properly and failing to take care of the property, so they should be responsible for fixing the issue. Meanwhile, tenants usually see any kind of mould as a problem with the property itself and therefore believe it’s down to the landlord to get rid of it.
And, until now, it has understandably been something of a grey area because of the way landlords’ and tenants’ responsibilities are stated in law. As per the Housing Act 2004 and Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, the landlord is legally responsible for maintaining a rental property in a good and safe condition for their tenants and free from hazards. However, tenants have a duty to take care of their rented home – specifically, clause 4.1 in Section C of the government’s model tenancy agreement states:
The Tenant must take reasonable care of the Property, any items listed in the inventory and the Common Parts (if any). This includes (but is not limited to):
- taking reasonable steps to keep the Property adequately ventilated and heated so as to prevent damage from condensation;
This lack of clarity over what looks like a shared responsibility is what has been at the root of disputes - although at Reeds Rains, we have always advised our landlords that we will instruct contractors to resolve any issues like this on their behalf as soon as possible, to ensure they are meeting their obligations and staying on the right side of the law.
New government guidance that clarifies the issue
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) finally published guidance in September that makes it clear tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould, and the responsibility for resolving the issue lies firmly with the landlord.
The new guidance states that landlords “must treat cases of damp and mould with the utmost seriousness and act promptly to protect their tenants’ health.” It goes on to say: “Damp and mould in the home are not the result of ‘lifestyle choices’, and it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address the underlying causes of the problem, such as structural issues or inadequate ventilation.”
Tackling damp and mould
As managing agents, there are three key things we do to help avoid condensation and surface mould becoming a problem in the properties we look after:
- Advise our landlords to ensure rooms that are prone to harbouring excess moisture, such as the kitchen and bathroom, have windows or extractor fans fitted and are decorated with specialist anti-mould paint.
- Remind tenants at check in - and during periodical inspections if necessary – that they are responsible for ventilating and heating properly to avoid condensation and should wipe away any that they find so that mould doesn’t form.
- During periodical inspections, we specifically check areas where surface mould tends to form:
- On window sills
- On walls behind furniture
- In the corners of bathrooms and on the ceiling - especially above showers and baths
- In any room used for drying laundry
If surface mould is found, we can have a contractor clean and treat the area with anti-mould products and check the property to make sure there isn’t a more serious problem.
Other causes of damp
There are two other types of damp that landlords are responsible for eliminating from their property, although these are less common:
- Rising damp is when moisture seeps up into the property from the ground, which shows as ‘tide marks’ on the lower part of the walls on the ground floor. This will require inspection and treatment by a damp specialist, and it may be that the property needs a new damp course.
- Penetrating damp is caused by internal leaks or water getting in from the outside – often because of cracked brickwork - and it will appear as damp patches on the walls or ceiling. An experienced builder and/or roofing contractor should be instructed to inspect the property and fix the source of the damp.
Provided a property is in an appropriate condition to be let at the start of a tenancy and is periodically inspected and well maintained throughout the let, there should be very little chance of damp becoming an issue. However, if you suspect your property might be suffering from damp and you’d like some advice, or if you would like to discuss our fully managed service, just get in touch with your nearest Reeds Rains branch and have a chat with one of the team.