This month we start a series of articles from our property manager, Maria Ginex, - Top Ten Property Management issues and how best to handle them, or even better prevent them from the outset.
During the winter months, our most frequent problem is condensation; this month, Maria looks at this thorny issue, what causes it, what can be done to prevent it and whose responsibility it is…..
What is Condensation and When does it Occur?
Condensation is caused by water vapour or moisture from inside the property coming into contact with a colder surface, such as a window or wall. The resultant water drops (condensation) may then soak into the wallpaper or paintwork or even plasterwork. In time, the affected areas begin to grow black mould.
Condensation occurs mainly during the colder months, whether it is wet or dry outside. It is usually found in the corners of rooms, north facing walls and on or near windows. It is also found in areas of little air circulation such as behind wardrobes and beds, especially when they are pushed up against external walls. Black mould is frequently seen on this type of dampness.
What can Landlords do to help avoid Condensation in the first place?
Without a garden, tenants are limited to drying clothing in your property. I would highly recommend landlords supply washer/ dryers. Tumble driers should be vented to the outside (never into the home) or if not possible a condensing washer/dryer would be good alternative.
Tenants are often nervous about leaving windows open when they are out, especially those in ground floor flats. When refurbishing bear this in mind and go for windows with lock open handles which allow the windows to be slightly ajar allowing constant air flow; however they remain securely locked so provide peace of mind. Another alternative is trickle vents; these can be installed easily into most UPVC windows. These vents allow warm (but moist) air to escape to the outside and let in cool (but dry) air.
Heat recovery fans are very good for ventilating 'wet rooms' such as bathrooms and kitchens. They are more effective than ordinary fans, since they get rid of the moisture from the air and let fresh air in and also recycle the heat back into your home. Whichever fan you have, whether heat recovery or extractor, avoid fans which activate only when the light is on, tenants may not use the light during the day.
Providing tenants with a household de-humidifier appliance will help to reduce the level of humidity in the air. Tenants are often not keen to use the appliances as regularly as you would like due to the cost of running them. However this can be pointed out to them both at the outset and throughout the tenancy. In addition if it comes to claiming from your deposit lodged with the DPS at the end of the tenancy, you as a landlord, have shown that you have taken all possible measures to avoid condensation, the onus is therefore on the tenant.
Invest in air bricks, these are usually used when the property contains gas appliances (to avoid a dangerous build up of carbon monoxide) however they can also be used for ventilation purposes. Airbricks must be checked regularly to make sure they are not blocked, we have had many situations where tenants have blocked the vents because of draughts.
Avoid paraffin and gas heaters if at all possible, as they are a one of the main causes of condensation problems – although they produce heat, they also put a lot of water vapour into the air.
Ideally tenants should shut doors behind them especially when cooking and bathing which of course they don’t always. Automatic door closures can help here, preventing water vapour and steam to travel around the property causing condensation.
Don’t forget your gas and electricity supply companies should provide free help and advice on what energy efficiency measures are available.
General property maintenance can also help avoid condensation disputes between tenants and landlords. I would also recommend checking roofs regularly to ensure there are no leaks and gutters to make sure they are not blocked or damaged causing water to penetrate into the brickwork. Although these issues are not due to condensation sometimes the signs of these damages are similar and can be quite misleading.
What can Tenants do?
Many of our tenants are living in the UK for the first time and are not really aware of how tricky a problem this can be in flats that are almost hermetically sealed! They don’t like leaving the windows open to let their costly heating out; in addition the majority of them leave for work in the morning having showered and cooked breakfast.
As part of our new procedures, we are now providing new tenants with guidance on how to avoid condensation and what to do when it does rear its ugly head. Recently we have also written to all our existing tenants to make them aware of the issue. If you would like a copy of what we have provided, please get in touch.
In addition there is a clause in their contract which makes them aware that it is their responsibility to do everything possible to avoid condensation.
Ultimately the responsibility rests with the tenants, however as Landlords and managing agents we need to have done everything possible to help them avoid it occurring. Remember when it comes down to claiming from the tenants’ deposit lodged with the DPS, it is their money in law and the burden of proof rests with us.