The tricky issues of damp and mould
Let’s face it, Britain can be a damp country to live in. If it’s not raining now, it will be soon. Joking aside, it’s not meant to be damp when we’re indoors, but sadly some properties are damp, and when damp conditions persist, mould can grow. Although the exact risks from mould are hard to quantify, health experts generally agree that mould spores aren’t good for us. Which brings us to the question of what to do about damp and mould in a rented property. As a tenant, what are your rights and responsibilities? It’s easy to say it’s the landlord’s problem, but in truth, it might not be.
Having animals in a property, however well behaved, does increase the likelihood of problems and no doubt most landlords would still prefer to minimise all their risks, but the rental market is growing and forcing change. Renting is more and more a long-term situation. Families put down roots in an area, children are born and start at the local school. Gardens are tended and friends made in the neighbourhood. Tenants aren’t just short-term visitors but are part of their local communities and just like the homeowners out there, they love their animals. Many are simply unwilling to wait for that far-off day when they may own their own homes. Others want their children to grow up alongside a pet and learn the responsibility of taking care of them.
Who is responsible?
In simple terms, the landlord is responsible for providing a home that is fit to live in. If damp is due to structural issues, a failed damp-proof course, leaking pipes or a dodgy roof, then you can ask the landlord to make the necessary repairs and redecorate any internal damage. But it’s worth knowing that it could be you that’s causing the problem.
The things we do every day in our homes release moisture into the atmosphere. Cooking, boiling the kettle or taking a shower all contribute. If we dry laundry on an airer, we’re contributing to the issue. Even when we breathe, we are releasing water vapour.
We can get a little smarter about how we handle things, use extractor fans or cover pans when they’re on the stove for example, but we need two things to counter the increased moisture – adequate ventilation and heating. And in most cases, it’s the tenant who’s responsible for the both of those. If you’re being very frugal with the heating and keeping all the windows closed, you could be building up a problem.
Disputes can arise about where the responsibility for controlling damp and mould lies. Often tenants blame landlords and vice versa. The solution can be to get an expert in to diagnose the cause, and although as a tenant you may be reluctant to do this, it’s worth knowing that if the problem is related to heating or ventilation, and damage to the property results, the landlord is permitted to make a deduction from your deposit when the tenancy ends.
Of course, no one wants to get into a dispute over damp issues and keeping a good relationship with your landlord can help. If you are doing what you can to control moisture levels, drying washing outdoors whenever possible, for example, but still having issues, then your landlord may be willing to improve ventilation or heating or even supply a dehumidifier.
Let’s just go back to that earlier statement. The accommodation your landlord provides must be fit to live in. For tenancies which started from or after 20 March 2019, this is a legal requirement. One of the factors which would cause a property to be deemed unfit would be damp, where the damp could seriously impact your health or prevent you from making full use of your home. Although it sometimes takes an expert to determine the underlying cause of damp, you do have legal protection if you’re not to blame, and landlords not sticking to their obligations can be forced to carry out improvements.
Damp is a tricky issue, but remember, it doesn’t have to impact your health. Be aware of it, talk to your landlord about it and take action if you need to.