Damp and Mould
Dampness is a major problem in rented student houses across the country. It is important that you know what you can do and what your rights are if you have damp and mould in your student house.
What is damp and mould?
Damp is caused through excess moisture in the home and can lead to the growth of mould/mildew that appears as a cloud of little black dots on walls, furniture, window frames, floors and skirting boards.
Dampness can damage the interior of your property, rotting timber fixtures and wall plaster. More importantly, damp and mould can encourage the growth of house dust mites and can increase the risk of resporatory illnesses, such as asthma, due to the inhalation of the mould spores.
Find out more about how damp and mould affects your health here.
Who is responsible for rectifying damp or mould problems?
If you have damp or mould in your home, the first thing you need to do is identify and address the cause. Sometimes it will be easy to see the cause - read below to find out more.
The golden rule with damp is to tell your landlord as soon as possible. They are not responsible for the problem if the tenants have not communicated it to them. Tenants should look to inform the landlord of the problem in a way which can be evidenced.
Condensation based damp/mould will arguably initially be the responsibility of the tenant to address, though if the problem is ongoing after preventative measures have been taken, it may become the responsibility of the landlord where an argument can be made that the source of the damp is structural, poor design/construction or disrepair for which the landlord is responsible.
Penetrating and rising damp will always generally be the responsibility of the landlord to address.
What should I do if there is damp or mould in my home?
If you have damp or mould in your home, as explainded above, the first thing you need to do is identify and address the cause. Consider the following steps in addressing these problems:
- Read and understand the information thoroughly on this page;
- Take all reasonable measures to prevent tenant-based condensation;
- Seek advice from Student Advice in the Students' Union;
- Contact the landlord/managing-letting-agent in writing to inform them of the problem and request the problem be inspected and rectified. A shelter template letter is available here;
- Continue to communicate regularly and often with the landlord/managing-agent until the problem is rectified, and;
- If the landlord/agent is not addressing the problem within a reasonable length of time, contact the private sector housing enforcement team in your local authority. We have included the contact details for Cardiff County Council below:
Private Sector Housing Enforcement - Cardiff County Council
It is very common for landlords and tenants to argue/dispute as to who is responsible for the source of the mould. Our suggestion is to evidence the fact that you have done everything you reasonably can to prevent condensation forming and to open communications with your landlord/agent as quickly as possible with a view to resolving the problem.
Under the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 there are additional requirements placed on landlords to ensure damp and mould problems are addressed.
What causes damp?
There are a few major causes of excessive moisture in the home. These include:
- Penetrating dampness (repair problems);
- Rising damp, and;
- Construction damp.
If you have taken measures to reduce levels of condenation and/or levels of damp are extreme, the cause is more likely to be structural and you will need to approach your landlord, or letting agent.
Condensation occurs when the air and/or surfaces are cold and when the moisture content of the air is high. As a result condensation tends to get worse in cold weather. The main causes of condensation are:
- Steam from cooking, showering and the drying of laundry inside the home;
- Insufficient ventilation;
- Insufficient heating, or;
- A lack of insulation.
Penetrating dampness (repair problems)
Penetrating damp is caused by structural defects with the property, such as a leaky roof, gutter, rain water pipes and even mains water supply. Water is essentially getting into the property from outside. This is more likely in properties that are not well maintained by the landlord. Penetrating damp will get worse in wet weather.
Rising dampness can affect ground floor rooms, particularly basement properties and is caused by water from the ground getting into the walls and floors, often because a 'damp proof course' (DPC) or 'damp proof membrane' (DPM) has failed, or where the property was built without damp proofing. Rising damp is more prevelent in older properties.
Construction damp is caused by the poor design of the property. Your landlord has a legal obligation to maintain the structure or exterior of the property and so it is common for disputes to arrise as to who is responsible for damp caused as a result of poor interior design that inhibits ventilation, promotes excessive moisture in the air or reduces the temperature of the property.
Condensation can be reduced by following the following steps:
- Produce less moisture by drying laundry outside, or using a tumble dry with an outside vent;
- Cover your pans when cooking;
- Close internal doors when cooking or showering;
- Leave window trickle-vents open;
- Briefly open windows a few times a day - particularly in bedrooms;
- Use extractor fans when showering/cooking in bathrooms/kitchens;
- Avoid putting too much in storage and wardrobes to allow for air flow;
- Leave a gap between furniture and walls to increase air flow;
- Heat your home keeping temperatures above 15 degrees, and;
- Check that there is sufficient insulation in your attic and requesting more were appropriate.
Condensation will be reduced where there is less moisture in the air, the property is warmer and ventilation is promoted.
How do get rid of light mould
Where the cause of the mould is condensation, taking the basic steps, outlined above should address the cause of the problem. Light mould can be wiped off walls and surfaces with hot soapy water and vinegar and soft furnishing washed. Once finished, use a dry rag to remove the moisture from the wall.
Please be aware that disturbing mould by brushing or vacuum cleaning may increase the risk of repiratory problems. If taking basic steps to address the problem, you may want to consider protecting yourself from mould spores by wearing googles, rubber gloves and a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Open the windows but keep doors closed to prevent spores spreading to other areas of the house. Consider using a good quality fungicidal paint to help prevent mould recurring if redecorating.
Remember the throw sponges, clothes and rags away that have been used to clean mould.
Measures your landlord can take to address the problem
The measures available to your landlord or managing agent will be determined by the cause of the damp. Where damp is created as a result of structural, or construction based problems, the only long term solution will be to conduct building maintenance. This can be costly and some landlords will be reluctant to pay for this.
Painting over mould will not generally resolve a mould problem, unless that paint contains a fungicidal agent and even then, this will not be addressing the cause of the damp.
Your landlord can consider giving you a dehumidifier as a temporary measurer to dry out the interior of the property. This cannot be a permanent measurer as the equipment may become expensive to operate from mains electricity. Similarly it will not itself address the source of the damp.