Landlords and lettings agents in the UK that ignore tenant complaints about damp and mould, could lead to personal injury claims and even hefty fines of up to £5,000, it is claimed.
In Britain, condensation and mould in residential property is mainly a winter problem, particularly where warm moist air is generated in areas like kitchens and bathrooms and then penetrates to colder parts of the building.
When the air gets cold, it cannot hold onto all the extra moisture produce by everyday activities, so some of this moisture appears as small droplets of water, most noticeable on windows, or where there is little movement of air. If not properly dealt with, this extra dampness can lead to mould growth on walls, furniture, window frames and even clothes.
Condensation and mould isn’t something that landlords and agents should ignore, according to Letrisks, a leading provider of landlord insurance and tenant referencing services.
Mould spores need a moist environment in which to germinate, so many mould problems are caused by poor building maintenance and lack of ventilation, such as water leaking through windows or roofs; rising damp, which is often caused by breached, missing or damaged damp proof membranes; steam and condensation from showers, bathrooms, cooking or high air humidity; and inadequate ventilation or heating throughout the home.
Older properties tend to suffer more than new ones, but rental properties are particularly prone. The problem is often a matter of degree from a small patch of mould or discoloured wallpaper behind the wardrobe in the very top corner of a bedroom, to serious amounts of mould growth across walls, inside wardrobes and on clothes, furnishings, carpets and in basements.
Aside from damage to the property, mould spores are well documented as a health risk. The mould fungi have been identified as the source of many health problems, including infections, asthma, allergies and sinusitis. Moulds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins that may cause reactions in humans.
Michael Portman, managing director of Letrisks, pointed out that a recent case of a Council which failed to eradicate damp problems proved costly. ‘A Lambeth Council tenant moved into her flat during 2009 and at that time it was damp and mouldy. She told the Council, but they denied responsibility and said it was condensation. A year later the damp and mould was considerably worse, so the tenant sued the Council. The condensation was in fact a leak through the bathroom ceiling from the flat above, also owned and managed by Lambeth. In 2012, the tenant was paid compensation and repairs were carried out,’ he explained.
‘Unfortunately, by this stage, the tenant’s five year old son had developed asthma. A personal injury claim was started on his behalf, which is still ongoing. The damp problem continued and the council was fined £1,335 which shows how seriously the court viewed the offence,’ he added.
The firm says that the best way to ensure the control of mould in buildings is to carry out good building maintenance and check there is adequate ventilation. Anywhere that is liable to allow water to leak in from outside the property, has a high degree of damp or condensation, or is not kept at a comfortable temperature is prone to a mould attack.
‘For properties that already have a serious mould problem, the best option is to call a professional who can diagnose the cause of the mould and remove it,’ said Portman.
Letrisks advice includes not ignoring a problem. It says that if a tenant complains about mould or condensation, there should be a visit to the property and the problem should be fixed.
Landlords and/or agents should check for leaks that may be causing damp, inside and outside the property. Bathrooms are a common culprit for escaping water and gutters could be blocked by leaves at this time of year.
Landlords should ensure that bathrooms and kitchens are well ventilated by installing extractor fans and ensuring that there windows that can be easily opened. Extractor fans should be working efficiently.