Damp and mould can cause serious issues but resolving problems can sometimes be a contentious issue. Here, we take a look at the causes of damp and the responsibilities tenants and landlords both have in resolving the problem.
What causes damp and mould in a house?
Identifying the type of damp present in your property is just as important as dealing with it, as it can affect the way 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 simply failed through age, it can lead to rising damp.
- Penetrating damp – this occurs when water soaks into a property, usually because there’s some sort of structural damage. This could include leaking gutters and roofs or rotten windowsills.
- Condensation – technically, not a type of damp but it is one of the main reasons for damp appearing. It’s caused simply by day-to-day activities which leads 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, if it’s not resolved, mould can start to grow.
Can damp make you ill?
Damp itself doesn’t make you ill but the mould that grows on it, can. There are actually several different types of mould you can find in homes but the most common is black mould.
Mould is a fungus and 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 in different ways.
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.
Who is responsible for dealing with damp in a rented property?
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 the type of lease you have.
On the other hand, it’s harder to allocate responsibility for damp caused by condensation. In some ways, this comes down to tenant lifestyle (drying clothes indoors or steam from cooking) but it can be argued that as a landlord, you should ensure suitable ventilation. For instance, fans in bathrooms, extractors in kitchens or dehumidifiers.
Either way, it’s in tenants and landlords interests that both parties work together to sort out damp issues as swiftly as possible rather than waste time allocating blame.
How can tenants and landlords prevent damp and mould?
Preventing damp and mould is relatively straightforward. If you’re a landlord, some solutions might have a cost, but these can be worth the initial expense if it minimises future damage.
What landlords can do to prevent damp and mould:
- Invest in fans – a cooker hood or bathroom extractor fan that draws out steam is an easy way to reduce condensation.
- Provide dehumidifiers – these will soak up excess moisture and cost relatively little.
- Consider air bricks – if condensation is particularly bad in some spaces, increasing ventilation with air bricks can help resolve the issue.
- Insulate – good insulation isn’t just energy efficient, it can lower the risk of condensation building up.
- Regular inspections – property inspections once a quarter can help to identify potential problems (like damaged gutters) giving you the chance to resolve them early on.
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.
How can landlords resolve damp and mould problems?
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 which will enable you to find a long-term solution. Remember that while commercially available products might temporarily remove mould, they won’t resolve the root 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 at RPSA (Residential Property Surveyors Association).
There are also firms that 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.
Can I end my tenancy early due to mould?
If you’re a tenant, and you 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. Plus, under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, you can also initiate a court order to force your landlord to act.
Otherwise, there’s no specific legislation that 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 what your obligations are first.
- 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.
What happens if tenants refuse landlord access for repairs?
Landlords have rights to reasonable access in order to inspect and carry out repairs on rental properties. However, tenants do have the right to refuse.
Section 21 is also 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.
Does landlord insurance cover me for damp and mould?
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 led to damp problems. In these instances, your claim could also extend to include damage to 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 on 01603 216399.