How to deal with damp, mould and condensation
Autumn and winter are the times of year when damp and mould are more likely to occur in rented homes. And as we approach these colder months, it’s important to be clear on:
- The signs to look out for
- The potential dangers and consequences of having damp and mould in a property
- Your responsibilities to fix problems and what responsibilities your tenant has
- The preventative measures you can take to avoid damp becoming a problem
The first thing to be clear about is that it is your responsibility as a landlord to:
Ensure that any property you let comes to the market in a good and safe condition and stays that way for the duration of the let, under the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018, and
- Do all you can to minimise the risks from the specific hazards outlined in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) - damp and mould being one of the most common problems.
So, regardless of what has caused damp to occur and mould to form, it is your responsibility to deal with the problem.
1. The three main types of damp and their causes
This is water that comes up from the ground, affecting the bottom part of a property, up to about a metre. It should be picked up by a surveyor when you buy a property and, in most cases, can be fixed by installing a damp-proof course, which should protect the property for about 25-30 years.
This is either water getting in from the outside (usually through damaged brickwork, failing window seals or roof issues) or an internal leak (e.g. from a damaged water tank or a badly-sealed bath). It’s usually easy to get an idea of where the problem is from damp patches on walls or ceilings. We’d recommend that you have a builder inspect the property, fix the problem and repair any damage.
This is often considered as ‘damp’ but is very different, even though it can still result in mould developing in rented properties. It occurs when warm air collides with cold surfaces or there is too much humidity in a property that can’t escape. The problem begins as dampness on windows, walls and ceilings that then runs down the surface and collects in pools, usually on window sills and at the edge of the floor. If it’s not dealt with, it turns into mildew (small black spots), which then grow and spread as mould. Condensation is most often caused by one of the following:
- The landlord hasn’t installed sufficient ventilation
- The heating system isn’t working properly
- The tenant is simply not opening windows or using extractors in kitchens and bathrooms.
- The tenant is leaving washing to dry in certain rooms and not opening windows to let the extra moisture out. (This can be a particular problem in HMOs).
2. The dangers of potential consequences of not dealing with mould
You must ensure that any mould in a property is removed as soon as possible, as it can be harmful to tenants, especially those diagnosed with any kind of lung-related condition (e.g. asthma or even the flu).
The consequences for you as the landlord are fines and in some cases even criminal charges. What’s much more likely, though, is that a tenant would bring a damp or mould problem to your attention or you it would be picked up on a periodical inspection. In any case, you’ve got to deal with it right away. If you don’t:
- Your tenant might report you to the local council, which could lead to them issuing an ‘improvement notice’. If you don’t comply with it and fix the problem, they can fine you up to £30,000 without having to take you to court and, if the matter is serious enough, they could also put you on the national ‘rogues database’ and issue a banning order, preventing you from letting property
- Your tenant might take you to court themselves, under powers granted as part of the Homes Act. They can apply for an injunction to compel you to make repairs and can also apply for financial compensation/damages, which could be very costly for you
3. Responsibilities: yours and your tenant's
- From the start of the tenancy, make sure there is no sign of damp in the property.
- Ensure there is ventilation in rooms where there are high levels of moisture, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms. Where there isn’t a window, you should install an extractor fan, ideally linked to the light switch.
- Advise the tenant which rooms might be prone to condensation forming and how to ventilate properly.
- When damp is noticed or reported, even if it’s because of something the tenant has done or failed to do, you are responsible for removing mould and fixing the underlying problem.
- Keep surfaces free of condensation, e.g. wipe down window frames and sills if water is pooling
- Ventilate rooms where moisture has a tendency to collect, e.g. use extractor fans or open windows in the kitchen and bathroom and anywhere washing is hung to dry
- Report any issues with the condition of the property to the landlord or managing agent
Can I charge my tenant for repairing damp issues?
If leaks and damp were clearly caused by the tenant’s negligence, such as letting a bath overflow or damaging plumbing fittings, then you should be able to either retain the cost from their deposit at the end of the tenancy or ask them to reimburse you sooner. With things like mildew or surface mould, it’s harder to prove fault and the cost of removing it may only be relatively low. If the cost is significant, remember that you should be able to claim for accidental or malicious damage, assuming your insurance policy covers you for that.
4. Preventative measures
Because it’s your responsibility to make sure the property doesn’t suffer damp and mould issues and you’re highly likely to have a number of tenants who don’t ventilate properly, it’s worth considering installing a ventilation system. You can have units fitted that gently and continuously circulate fresh air throughout the property, which should dramatically reduce the likelihood of condensation and mould forming.
- Use specialist anti-mould paint in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as any other room where condensation is particularly likely to form. In an HMO you may want to use it throughout, as tenants tend to dry their washing in their bedrooms and sometimes the hallways as well
- Explain potential condensation issues to your tenant at the start of the tenancy and remind them that they have a responsibility to keep the property in good condition, which means cleaning and ventilating properly
- Provide your tenant with some anti-mould spray, so they can clean off any mildew themselves before it becomes a bigger problem
- Carry out thorough periodic checks, looking for any signs of damp inside and any damage to the outside of the property. We know from experience that tenants don’t always alert you to problems, so it’s important to make inspections every 6-12 months, as we do, to make sure you pick up any issues early
Remember you could get a visit from a local authority inspector at any time, particularly if the property is licenced or registered with the council, so do all you can to make sure your Buy to Let stays on the right side of the law.
If we manage your property, we’ll carry out periodical inspections on your behalf. We also have an experienced team of contractors that can quickly deal with any damp or mould problems that arise.
If you currently manage your property yourself and would like any advice, or to discuss moving to a full-management service, just call into your local Your Move branch and one of the team will be happy to help.