Damp and mould can cause serious issues, but resolving problems can sometimes be contentious. Here, we look at the causes of damp and the responsibilities tenants and landlords have in resolving the problem.
- What causes damp and mould in a house?
- Can damp make you ill?
- Who is responsible for dealing with damp in a rented property?
- What are landlord’s legal obligations when it comes to damp and mould?
- How should landlords meet these standards?
- What can landlords do to prevent damp and mould?
- How are housing standards enforced?
- How can tenants prevent damp and mould?
- How can landlords resolve existing damp and mould problems?
- What should tenants do to report damp and mould?
- Can I end my tenancy early because of damp or mould?
- What happens if tenants refuse landlord access for repairs?
- Does landlord insurance cover me for damp and mould?
Identifying the type of damp present in your property is just as important as dealing with it, as it can affect how it’s treated. In the UK, damp commonly includes:
- Rising damp– this is when water from the ground beneath a property seeps upwards into its brickwork. Usually, the property’s damp course (or damp proofing) would protect against this, but if it’s inadequate, not maintained or has failed through age, it can lead to rising damp.
- Penetrating damp – this occurs when water soaks into a property, usually because of structural damage. This could include leaking gutters and roofs or rotten windowsills.
- Condensation – technically, not a type of damp but one of the main reasons for damp appearing. It’s caused simply by day-to-day activities, leading to a build-up of humidity and water forming inside the house. Poor ventilation, drying clothes indoors and steam from cooking are all causes of condensation.
Regardless of what causes damp, mould can start to grow if it’s not resolved.
Damp itself doesn’t make you ill, but the mould that grows on it can. There are several different types of mould you can find in homes, but the most common is black mould.
Mould is a fungus; if you breathe in the spores, it can trigger a range of allergic reactions such as sneezing, a runny nose or a rash. It might not sound too serious, but like most conditions, it affects people differently.
Certain groups are far more likely to suffer from the effects of mould, including:
- The very young, including babies.
- The elderly.
- Anyone who suffers from allergies like asthma or eczema.
Mould doesn’t just set off pre-existing allergies; the spores carry toxins which can cause migraines and affect your immune system.
Responsibility for damp and mould is often a heated debate, but the answer often depends on what type of damp it is.
Typically, landlords are responsible for rising damp and penetrating damp because these are caused by structural issues (such as inadequate damp proofing or damaged window frames). This obligation is clearly set out in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which states that it’s the landlord’s responsibility “…to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes)”. Bear in mind that if you rent out commercial property, your responsibilities will depend on your lease type.
On the other hand, it’s harder to allocate responsibility for damp caused by condensation. In some ways, this comes down to everyday activities such as drying clothes indoors or steam from cooking.
However, as the landlord, it’s ultimately your responsibility to ensure your rental has suitable ventilation, for instance, fans in bathrooms, extractors in kitchens or dehumidifiers.
The law also sets out clear guidelines about living conditions in rental properties. The aim is to ensure tenants live in safe homes without the risk of being injured or becoming ill because of dangerous conditions.
There are five specific legal standards that relate to damp and mould. Landlords must consider these when property is rented out. If you don’t meet the standards, you could be prosecuted.
The five standards and what they mean for you as a landlord are:
1. Homes must be free from ‘category one’ hazards
Hazard categories are based on risk and the chances of those hazards causing harm. Category one hazards are the most serious and, if not resolved, can lead to death or health issues that need medical attention.
This standard is governed by the Housing Act 2004.
2. Homes must not contain conditions that are harmful to health
Issues (such as damp and mould) that can potentially cause health problems are included in the definition of ‘statutory nuisance’ under (1)(a) ‘any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance’.
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, tenants and councils can take legal action if a rented home shows signs of any statutory nuisance.
3. Homes must be fit to live in
A new condition in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out that properties should not contain serious hazards that could cause harm to tenants. This includes damp and mould.
When a property is assessed for hazards, tenants needs can also be considered. For example, damp can be highlighted as a particular risk if a tenant has a pre-existing condition such as asthma or other respiratory illness.
If tenants have told landlords about a specific hazard, it should be dealt with as soon as possible (although the law doesn’t set a time frame).
4. Social housing homes must meet the decent homes standard (DHS)
Social housing must be in a ‘reasonable state of repair’ and reasonably comfortable when it comes to temperature (not too hot and not too cold).
Private landlords should also know that while the decent homes standard only applies to social housing, the government is aiming to change this to apply to privately rented homes.
5. Privately rented homes must meet minimum efficiency standards (unless exempt)
Under the Energy Efficiency Regulations 2015 (for private rented property in England and Wales), rental properties must have an EPC rating of at least band E.
These regulations don’t specifically mention damp or mould but assume that energy-efficient homes are less likely to be affected by these issues, so long as they’re properly ventilated.
The aim of the government’s guidelines is to ensure rental homes have minimal hazards to start with. For landlords, it means making sure steps have been taken to provide a safe home where there are no serious risks to anyone’s health.
On a practical level, preventing damp and mould is relatively straightforward. Some solutions might have a cost, but these can be worth the initial expense if they minimise future damage and ensure you meet housing standards.
- Ensure windows and external doors fit properly.
- Insulate where needed to lower the risk of condensation building up.
- Provide ventilation such as cooker extractor fans or bathroom fans to draw out steam and reduce condensation.
- Provide dehumidifiers to absorb excess moisture in the air.
- Consider air bricks if condensation is particularly bad in some spaces, as these will help to improve ventilation.
- Regularly inspect properties to spot potential problems (like damaged gutters), giving you the chance to resolve them early on.
- Check that heating systems are efficient (and comply with building regulations).
For landlords, it’s also good practice to regularly inspect properties. Plus, if tenants flag up any concerns, the expectation is that they should be dealt with promptly. More often than not, it’s in your interest to resolve issues quickly before they become bigger (and more expensive) problems.
Local councils must act if they find properties with any category one hazards. They must also act if properties contain damp and mould classed as a statutory nuisance.
Councils can decide how to enforce these standards depending on how severe the problem is, but it could include:
- Issuing an improvement notice so that corrective work is carried out. This must usually be done within a specified amount of time.
- Issuing a legal order that forbids some or all of the property being used.
- The council carries out corrective work themselves and invoices the landlord.
Landlords that don’t comply can be fined up to £30,000 by the local council. If prosecuted, it could mean being given an unlimited fine. Plus, if you need a licence to rent property in your area (or you have an HMO), your council can also take this away for failing to meet housing standards.
Social housing standards are overseen by the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). If rentals fail to meet the decent homes standard, the RSH can take enforcement action against landlords, including unlimited fines.
Tenants also need to be aware of their own responsibilities. This means reporting problems as soon as they appear and allowing landlords access for repairs. Tenants should also be aware of any clauses in their tenancy agreement that set out maintenance duties – for example, keeping gutters clear of leaves and debris.
What tenants can do to prevent damp and mould:
- Improve ventilation– this includes simply keeping bathroom doors closed and a window open if you’re having a shower. If you’re cooking, keep a window open to let steam escape, or keep pans covered.
- Don’t dry clothes indoors– invest in a tumble dryer, or if that’s not possible, use dehumidifiers around laundry as it’s drying to absorb the excess moisture.
- Keep heating constant– if you can, keep the heating at a constant temperature to avoid rooms becoming cold, as this can lead to damp when warm air meets cold walls.
- Stay up to date with maintenance– make sure gutters and window frames are all intact and report damage to your landlord.
If damp and mould has already set in, it’s crucial to seek professional expertise. An expert will be able to identify the cause of damp, enabling you to find a long-term solution. Remember that while commercially available products might temporarily remove mould, they won’t resolve the root cause of the problem.
To organise professional help, you’ll need to find a qualified surveyor. You can search for one at RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) or RPSA (Residential Property Surveyors Association).
Some firms specialise in identifying and treating damp and mould, but you should always make sure they’re members of an official trade body, such as:
- HEVAC,which is also part of FETA (the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations).
- Property Care Association.
If you’re a tenant and spot signs of damp and mould, it’s up to you to report it to your landlord.
If you’ve repeatedly asked your landlord but to no avail, you could speak to your local council, who can compel your landlord to help. Under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, you can also initiate a court order to force your landlord to act. The government has put together a guide outlining the steps to do this: GOV.UK, fitness for human habitation, guide for tenants.
No specific legislation gives you the automatic right to end your tenancy early because of damp and mould. If you do want to leave, you have two choices:
- Use the break clause in your tenancy agreement. If your contract has a break clause, this gives you an opportunity to leave, but check any terms. You may have to give notice, so make sure you know your obligations.
- Negotiate an early end to your lease. If you don’t have a break clause, you’ll need to speak to your landlord about ending your tenancy early. You should do this in writing, explaining why you want to leave. If you’re in a house share, you could also offer to find another tenant to replace you.
Whatever you do, as a tenant with a signed tenancy agreement, you can’t simply leave or stop paying your rent.
Landlords have rights to reasonable access to inspect and carry out repairs on rental properties. However, tenants have the right to refuse.
Section 21 is sometimes known as a ‘no-fault eviction’ and is essentially a formal request that your tenants leave at the end of their fixed-term contract.
If you want your tenants to leave earlier than the end of their tenancy, you’ll need to issue a Section 8 eviction notice instead. To do this, you must have specific grounds for eviction – for example, if they’ve breached the terms of their tenancy agreement or neglected the property.
Damp may or may not be covered by your landlord insurance, depending on its cause.
Insurance policies typically exclude issues which arise because of poor maintenance or neglect. So, if, for example, damp was caused by leaky gutters which hadn’t been adequately maintained, your provider is unlikely to pay out for repairs.
If, however, an insured event resulted in damp, providers are much more likely to offer compensation to repair any damage. For example, if a storm or flood leads to damp problems. In these instances, your claim could also extend to include damage to the contents you provide, such as furniture – which is also why it’s a good idea to have a comprehensive property inventory.
Landlord insurance tailored to your needs
At Alan Boswell Group, we understand that landlords have a wide range of responsibilities. Our award-winning insurance products don’t just mitigate financial losses; they offer peace of mind, knowing that help and guidance is at hand when you need it most.
To find out more about the products we offer, head to our landlord insurance hub. To discuss how we can tailor a policy to suit you, contact an expert member of our team at 01603 216399.
This article was originally posted in May 2021, and updated in October 2023.