As we head into the colder months, it’s at this time of year when damp and mould are more likely to occur. And, as a landlord, it is your legal responsibility under the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 to ensure that any property you let comes to the market in a good and safe condition and stays that way for the duration of the let.
Additionally, you must do all you can to minimise the risks from the specific hazards outlined in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), of which damp and mould is one of the most common when it comes to rented properties.
So, the first thing to know is that, regardless of what action or who might have caused damp to occur and mould to form, it is ultimately your responsibility to deal with the problem. However, it’s also very useful to know what preventative measures you and your tenants can take to try to avoid damp issues and what recourse you might have for recouping costs.
But let’s start by clarifying the potential issues.
What is damp & mould and how can I recognise it?
There are three main types of damp that you might find in rented properties:
- Rising damp.
This is water coming up from the ground, which affects the bottom part of a property, up to about a metre, and it’s something that should be picked up by a qualified RICS surveyor when you buy a property. In most cases, it can be fixed by installing a damp-proof course, which should then last and protect the property for about 25-30 years.
- Penetrating damp.
This is either water getting in from the outside - usually because of damaged brickwork, degraded window seals or roof issues - or an internal leak, for instance, from a damaged water tank or a badly-sealed shower unit. You’ll notice damp patches on walls or ceilings, which should give you an idea of whereabouts the problem is. We’d recommend that you have a builder inspect the property, fix the problem and repair any damage.
This is probably the most common issue and often confused with being ‘damp’. It’s caused when warm air collides with cold surfaces or there is too much humidity in a property that can’t escape. Sometimes condensation forms because the landlord has not installed sufficient ventilation or the heating system doesn’t work properly, but often it’s down to the tenant simply not opening windows or using extractors in kitchens and bathrooms. Tenants drying clothes in their bedrooms and not opening windows to let the moisture out can be a big root cause, particularly in HMOs.
The problem begins as dampness on windows, walls and ceilings that then runs down the surface and collects in pools, usually on window sills and at the edge of the floor. If it’s not dealt with, it turns into mildew (small black spots), which then grow and spread as mould.
The dangers of mould
Any mould in a property must be removed as soon as possible, as it can cause health problems for the tenant, especially if they suffer with any kind of condition where their lungs are compromised e.g. asthma or even a bout of flu.
In terms of consequences for you as the landlord, if not fixed and reported, you could face fines and even criminal charges. However, what’s much more likely is that either a tenant would bring a damp or mould problem to your attention or it would be picked up on a periodical inspection. In either case, it is wise to deal with it right away. If you don’t:
- Your tenant might report you to the local council, which could lead to them issuing an ‘improvement notice’. If you don’t comply with it and fix the problem, they can fine you up to £30,000 without having to take you to court and, if the matter is serious enough, they could also put you on a ‘rogues database’ and issue a banning order, preventing you from letting property.
- If your tenant feels their home is not fit for purpose, they might take you directly to court themselves, under powers granted as part of the Homes Act. They can apply for an injunction to compel you to make repairs and can also apply for financial compensation/damages.
Can I charge my tenant for repairing damp issues?
If leaks and damp were clearly caused by the tenant’s negligence, such as letting a bath overflow or damaging plumbing fittings, then it may be possible to charge them. If the cost of fixing the issue is less than the deposit amount, you should be able to retain that amount at the end of the tenancy, by applying to the relevant deposit protection scheme. If the cost is greater, or they are likely to be remaining in the property for the foreseeable future, you could ask them to reimburse you sooner. If the cost is significant, remember that you should be able to claim for accidental or malicious damage, assuming your insurance policy covers you for that.
With things like mildew or surface mould, it is harder to prove fault. If you can show that you advised your tenant about ventilating the property and prove that they knew about the issue and didn’t report it, you may be able to make a case for charging them. However, if you are carrying out regular periodical inspections, you should be able to recognise and fix the issue for very little outlay.
Given that it is your responsibility to make sure the property doesn’t suffer damp and mould issues and you are likely to encounter tenants who don’t ventilate properly, it’s worth considering installing a ventilation system. You can have units fitted that gently and continuously circulate fresh air throughout the property, which should dramatically reduce the likelihood of condensation and mould forming.
Then, use specialist anti-mould paint in rooms where condensation is most likely to form. In a single-let property, that’s the kitchen and bathroom, but in an House in Multiple Occupancy you may want to use it throughout, as tenants tend to dry their washing in their bedrooms and sometimes the hallways.
It’s good practice to explain potential condensation issues to your tenant at the start of the tenancy and remind them that they have a responsibility to keep the property in good condition, which means cleaning and ventilating properly. You might even want to provide them with some anti-mould spray, so they can clean off any mildew themselves before it becomes a bigger problem.
And make sure you do carry out thorough periodic checks on both the interior and exterior of the property. We know from experience that tenants don’t always alert you to problems, so it’s important to make inspections every 6-12 months, as we do, to make sure you pick up any issues early. Remember that you could get a visit from a local authority inspector at any time, particularly if the property is licenced or registered with the council, so you’ve got to be sure that your buy to let is always on the right side of the law.
Summary of responsibilities: landlord & tenant
From the start of the tenancy, make sure there is no sign of damp in the property.
- Ensure there is ventilation in rooms where there are high levels of moisture, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms. Where there isn’t a window, you should install an extractor fan, ideally linked to the light switch.
- Advise the tenant which rooms might be prone to condensation forming and how to ventilate properly.
- When damp is noticed or reported, even if it’s because of something the tenant has done or failed to do, you are responsible for removing mould and fixing the underlying problem.
Keep surfaces free of condensation, e.g. wipe down window frames and sills if water is pooling.
- Ventilate rooms where moisture has a tendency to collect, e.g. use extractor fans or open windows in the kitchen and bathroom and anywhere washing is hung to dry.
- Report any issues with the condition of the property to the landlord or managing agent.
If we manage your property, we will carry out periodical inspections on your behalf and have a team of contractors that can quickly deal with any damp or mould problems that arise. If you currently manage your property yourself and would like any advice, or to discuss moving to a full-management service, simply call into your local Reeds Rains branch and one of the team will be happy to help.