Dealing with mould

Posted: 23rd Mar 2017

It is widely understood that living conditions have a considerable impact on individuals’ health.

One of the most prevalent causes of unhealthy living conditions is mould and damp. The National Health Service (NHS), for example, is unequivocal in identifying mould as the cause of:

  • respiratory infections and problems;
  • allergies;
  • asthma; and
  • damage to individuals’ immune systems.

Some individuals may be more vulnerable than others to these types of health problem and these include babies and young children, the elderly, people with existing skin problems (for example, eczema), those with existing allergies, asthma or respiratory problems and people whose immune systems are already compromised.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the NHS recommends that such vulnerable people need to stay clear of damp and mould.

That is all very well, of course, but what if the mould and damp is present in accommodation which a tenant is renting from you? Who is responsible?

The Citizens’ Advice Bureau sets out some of the responsibilities and obligations which are shared by both landlords and tenants when it comes to problems arising from mould and damp. Whether an express or implied term of any tenancy agreement, however, the onus is invariably on the landlord to ensure that the property remains a fit place to live, through the proper and effective control of mould and damp.

Our own research suggests that as many as one in five of all tenants leave because of their dissatisfaction with the condition of their rented accommodation.

In cases where the owner of buy to let property has allowed the problem of mould and damp to get out of hand, his very landlord insurance may be in jeopardy.

Mould, damp and condensation

These are all terms which might commonly be used to describe a problem in a building. Unfortunately, explains the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), there is often confusion about their meaning.

Condensation, for example, is more likely to be the cause of damp in a building than that caused by water penetration or by rising damp. Condensation is caused by water or humidity in the air – generated, for example, by cooking, washing or bathing – condensing when it meets a cooler surface (such as walls and glass window panes).

Unless problems of condensation are adequately tackled through improved ventilation, it may cause mould – which typically grows on walls and ceilings, around windows or behind furniture.

The mould itself might be brown, black or green in colour, although probably the most common is black spot mould. In the worst cases, the mould may be toxic, caused by the bacteria stachybotrys. The risk of toxic moulds such as this clearly makes diagnosis of the problem more important than ever.

Treating mould

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) warns that there is no quick-fix solution to masking mould through the use of sprays or by redecorating. These may hide the symptoms but do nothing to tackle the underlying problems.

Effectively tackling the problem may raise further issues:

Ventilation

  • if mould is growing because of poor ventilation, the apparently common sense solution is to let in more fresh air simply by opening a window;
  • for many tenants, however, this may lead to further problems in keeping the accommodation warm – something especially important to children and the elderly who are at home all day – which may cause health problems in itself;
  • simply “opening a window” is likely to compromise energy efficiency, increase heating bills and reduce effective security of the premises;

Condensation

  • according to the RLA, nearly 60% of households report problems with condensation and – reflecting our own figures – one in five have mould growing on inside walls, ceilings or around window frames;
  • condensation is most likely to occur around kitchens and bathrooms – especially in winter months when windows are kept shut to conserve heat;
  • if the kitchen or bathroom is internal, without outside windows of its own, the problems are likely to be exacerbated;
  • uncontrolled humidity and condensation provides the perfect medium in which household dust mites may breed, in the mouldy and damp conditions, allowing their colonisation of soft furnishings, carpets and bedding;
  • low-level, “trickle” ventilation may help to alleviate the problem without causing a great deal of heat loss;

Positive Input Ventilation

  • these are systems in which filtered, clean, fresh air is drawn into the property through a central ventilation point – generally situated above the landing in a multi-storey property or a central hallway in a flat or single-storey dwelling;
  • tests have shown that systems such as this may reduce condensation levels by up to 10% – with the most effective results being shown in those premises which previously suffered the worst levels of condensation.

As the landlord, you may reasonably expect your tenants to play their part in reducing problems of condensation and the mould it may cause. Nevertheless, if a tenant makes a complaint, and this is considered a valid complaint by the local authority, you are likely to have to adopt measures to rectify the problem.

October 2015 saw the introduction of legislation preventing landlords from giving tenants a “section 21” notice to quit within six months of a valid complaint having been made.