Damp is a common issue in many rented homes. But what are the causes, what needs to be done and whose responsibility is it? We address all these questions in this article.
What is damp and mould?
Damp refers to the presence of moisture within a property. One of the signs of damp is the growth of black spot mould on walls, window frames or curtains.
The three leading causes of moisture in buildings are rising damp, penetrating damp and condensation.
Rising damp affects the walls of buildings and occurs when moisture from the ground travels up through walls by capillary action. Rising damp is relatively rare as all buildings should have a damp proof course, a layer of waterproof material that protects against moisture rising. However, if this fails, dampness can occur inside the property leading to mould forming on walls. Signs of rising damp are:
- Damaged or rotten skirting boards or plaster
- Peeling paint or wallpaper, often with wet patches
- A tide line of brown staining in the lower area of your wall
- White powder-like substance on your wall or skirting boards caused by soluble salts from the groundwater
Penetrating damp is one of the most common causes of damp in the UK. Water penetrates through external or internal walls causing damage to the property.
Structural problems, such as faulty guttering or roofing or cracks in the walls, are the most frequent causes of penetrating damp. Penetrating damp can also be caused by internal leaks, such as burst pipes under the sink or bath.
Signs of penetrating damp are:
- Damp patches on walls or ceilings that get worse when it rains
- Wet and crumbly plaster
- Drips and puddles
Condensation happens when moisture in the air comes into contact with cold surfaces, causing water droplets to form. Condensation can lead to mould growth on interior walls, window frames, curtains and furniture.
The development of mould growth is the most tell-tale sign of condensation.
The health risks of living with mould
Being around mould can cause minor side effects like a blocked nose or coughing. However, people with asthma, mould allergies or a weakened immune system can be more severely affected.
All moulds should be removed from buildings and homes.
Is mould the landlord’s responsibility?
Problems caused by rising damp and penetrating damp are the landlord’s responsibility. This is because there is a term in most leasehold agreements that says it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the exterior and structure of the property in good repair.
Landlords are responsible for condensation issues if it is caused by poor heating, ventilation and insulation systems in the property, all of which are the responsibility of the landlord to provide. However, condensation can also be caused by the occupants’ lifestyle and habits, which tenants must take responsibility for.
There is no point in removing mould until the cause of the damp problem has been found and resolved. Once you have made the necessary repairs, then you can remove the mould.
If the mould area is one square metre or larger, you must contact a professional remediation company.
For small areas of mould, use one-part bleach to four parts water and scrub the affected area vigorously. Protect yourself from mould spores by wearing rubber gloves, goggles and a face mask. Always dispose of your cleaning materials in a sealed bag to prevent spreading mould to another part of your property.
Taking action on damp
If you have reported damp problems to your landlord and they haven’t done anything about it, you should contact the local authority’s Environmental Health department. They have the powers to force your landlord to deal with the problem.
Can I withhold rent for mould?
Tenants do not have the right to withhold rent because their landlord has failed to make the necessary repairs. If you do withhold your rent, your landlord may start eviction proceedings.
Instead, keep chasing your landlord to make sure they are aware of the problem. Provide evidence of the issue with photos and doctor’s notes if your health is affected. Try to negotiate a level of repair that both you and your landlord are happy with.
You could ask your landlord if you can arrange the repairs and deduct the cost from your rent. Make sure that you have their agreement in writing first.
Can I end my tenancy early due to mould?
Check your tenancy agreement to see if it has a break clause that will allow you to end your tenancy early. If not, you will still have to pay rent after you leave.
Can a landlord deduct money from the deposit for mould?
If the mould was not present at the start of the tenancy and has not been caused by a leak or structural issue, the landlord could argue that it has been caused by the tenants’ actions, such as failing to heat the property sufficiently. Consequently, the cost of removal and redecorating can be deducted from the tenant’s deposit.
It is up to the tenant to prove the cause of the mould. This will typically require a written letter from a damp expert stating that a structural issue causes the issue.
Preventing damp and mould: Advice for tenants
Tenants should take action to prevent condensation from occurring in the property.
In the winter, try to maintain a constant temperature within your home by setting the thermostat to a lower temperature but over a longer period of time each day. This will help to prevent any sudden rises and dips in temperature that can cause condensation to develop.
- Ensure that radiators aren’t blocked by furniture and towel warmers aren’t overloaded with damp towels.
- If extractor fans have been provided, always leave them on long enough to clear the moisture from the room.
- Refrain from drying clothes indoors.
- In the summer, keep rooms well ventilated by opening windows.
Preventing damp and mould: Advice for landlords
In the first instance, you should take steps to prevent damp and mould. Then you won’t have to deal with the task of having to remove it later. As mould thrives in damp conditions, your first port of call should be to prevent dampness in your home.
Fix structural issues
Structural problems which allow water to enter your home could encourage mould. Therefore you need to repair any roof damage as soon as possible. Also, ensure that all of your windows and doors are correctly sealed. Finally, fix any cracks in walls or ceilings to prevent water from seeping through.
A humid environment provides the perfect conditions for mould to grow in. Hence, you need to make sure that your home has sufficient ventilation. Plus, any appliance that uses or produces water, such as a tumble dryer, needs to have a ventilation system that expels the moisture outdoors.
Pay special attention to the bathroom and kitchen
Areas such as your bathroom and kitchen are particularly susceptible to dampness as moisture builds up whenever you take a shower or cook. Install extractor fans in both the bathroom and kitchen and ask your tenants to dry windows and sills if they notice condensation gathering.
If you have any questions about damp or mould in rental property or are looking to rent in central London, our team of property experts provide advice, contact us today.