Damp and mould may start out small – a dark patch on the wallpaper or a wet window frame – but this gruesome twosome can end up causing huge problems for both tenants and landlords, especially at this time of year. From a landlord’s perspective, damp and mould can mark and discolour a property’s walls and erode paintwork, while for tenants, they can seriously exacerbate underlying health issues like asthma, allergies or other breathing problems. These twin concerns make it imperative that letting agents understand exactly what causes damp and mould and where the responsibility for dealing with it lies.
Know your damp
The first question you need to ask when it comes to damp is – what type of damp is it? Understanding which type you’re dealing with will inform how you treat it.
- Condensation – this usually appears on window glass and can be easily wiped away. But if the underlying cause isn’t identified and dealt with it can also appear on cold walls and lead to mould developing, creating a much more significant issue.
- Penetrating damp – caused by water leaking through the walls, this is often due to a structural defect in the property.
- Rising damp – associated with older houses and conversion flats without effective insulation, rising damp occurs when moisture from the earth is drawn up into the bricks or concrete at the bottom of the property.
Does the responsibility lie with the landlord?
We hate to put a dampener on things (!), but the responsibility for these kinds of issues usually falls to the landlord. While it does depend on the type of damp – and tenant lifestyle choices like drying clothes inside can have a negative impact on damp development – fundamentally a landlord needs to be invested in protecting his or her property. Moreover there are rumblings that when the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill is passed next year, it could shift responsibility in its entirety to the landlord.
What should you do in a case of suspected damp and mould?
Agents and landlords can only react to problems as and when they’re reported, so it’s vital to educate your tenants about identifying and reporting the signs of damp.
Once you’ve been alerted to an issue*, you are legally obliged to respond to the report in writing within 14 days, stating how and when you’re going to resolve the issue.
The first course of action should then be visiting the property to inspect the problem. Where the mould level has not developed, it may be possible to wipe it away then treat the area with a fungicidal wash to prevent reoccurrence. In most cases, however, we would recommend calling in an expert – the same applies to damp. Often damp and mould are caused by an existing concern, such as a structural flaw or an issue with pipes. It goes without saying that in these instances it makes sense to fix the underlying issue at the same time you treat the damp and mould.
For more information and ideas about how to handle damp and mould, why not download our free quick guide? It's called Damp and Mould: What are Your Responsibilities? and it's available here.
*If a tenancy started before 1st October 2015, this is not a legal requirement.