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Understanding Mould in Rental Properties

Whenever mould is present in a property, it always sets alarm bells ringing!

Tenants are worried about impacts to their the health and Landlords are concerned about damage to the property. Unfortunately, mould infestations are more common than you would think – especially in damp areas.

Let’s have a look as some causes of mould, who’s responsible for the fix in a rental property and (most importantly) the best way to deal with it.

What (the heck) is mould?

Without asking you to break out your GCSE Chemistry book, mould is a form of fungus that breaks down organic material. Mould is found in homes as they offer moisture, warm air and materials to feed on, such as wallpaper and carpet.

Unless it is cleaned or removed, it will continue to grow – mould is very inconsiderate and won’t resolve itself.

What Causes Mould to Grow?

Understanding why mould grows can help you to head it off at the pass. Getting to the root of the issue is important so that you don’t have a recurring problem – allowing you to minimise disruption to your tenants and damage to the property.

Humidity – This is one of the most common reasons that mould occurs. In properties, humidity usually originates in the kitchen, from cooking, and bathrooms, from showering.

Condensation – Usually occurs in the places in a property where warm air collides with cool surfaces – like when steam touches the cold panes of windows or uninsulated walls.

Rising Damp – As the name would indicate, this is where the cohesive properties of water cause it to “climb” up a wall. One of the main suspects for this is plumbing leaks, such as water pipes behind your walls or drainage underneath a tub.

Poor Ventilation – build-up of moisture in a home can occur when condensation from every day activities, like drying clothes indoors, cooking and showering, are not properly ventilated out of the property (through a window or electric fan extraction).

If you’re interested in identifying the type of mould then this guide can help: The Most Common Types of Mould in Homes

Where does Mould Usually Live?

Given the right conditions, mould can grow on any surface. Usually, it’s found in homes on cold surfaces, like window surrounds, and in places where airflow is restricted, which includes behind furniture and where walls meet the ceiling.

Mould has a special affinity for bathrooms – humidity dense air trapped in a place that can be poorly ventilated. It can frequently be found in grout, silicone and on the ceiling of the room. A close second to bathrooms are kitchens – all the boiling water and steam from cooking can quickly cause issues if not properly extracted.

Who’s responsible: The Landlord or the Tenant

This isn’t always a clear cut answer. In simple terms, the Landlord is responsible for ensuring the structure of the property is properly maintained. If the mould problem stems from an issue that the Landlord could’ve or should’ve fixed then they will be held responsible. If the tenant could have prevented the build-up of mould by ventilating the property more effectively, the responsibility is likely to be the tenant’s.

For example, if something breaks in a property (like a gutter falling off a roof or a slow leak under a tub) and the Landlord does not fix it, resulting in mould, then the Tenant cannot be held liable. Landlords can also be held responsible if radiators do not get sufficiently hot to drive out moisture.

Alternatively, if the property is adequately maintained and Tenants are drying clothes on radiators (we see this a lot) and not ventilating kitchens and bathrooms, then the fault may lie with the Tenant.

Mould doesn’t grow overnight, the best suggestion we can offer is to maintain good line of communication. Landlords should be invested in conducting interim inspection and Tenants should be receptive to having them completed. This allows people to catch small issues before the grow into large ones.

Treating Mould is entirely possible with products available from supermarkets and hardware stores. It will most likely take a healthy amount of elbow grease; be sure to give it the time it deserves.

Once the mould is removed, be sure to select the correct products for redecoration – for example, you may need a stain blocker before painting. If you’re unsure it’s best to contact a professional or do an internet search deep dive.

Preventing Mould in Rental Homes

Prevention of mould isn’t complicated but it does require care and attention. Most of these suggestions are simple but can be very effective.

To start, ventilation is key. Allowing condensation to escape through open windows and powered fans will help suppress mould growth. Encourage tenants to open windows while cooking and after showering. In the winter, ensure that the heating is on when windows are opened – this may seem a counter-intuitive measure, but you need the heat to drive evaporation and remove the moisture.

Modern homes with airtight UPVC windows have very little airflow unless a window is cracked open for at least 20 minutes a day.

Next, let the light shine! Moist and dark spaces are breeding grounds for mould, so ensure your curtains are open during the day to allow natural light and fresh air to enter the room.

Educate tenants on measures that should be taken inside of the home. Regular cleaning, dusting and hoovering are essential to prevent fungus from growing. Be careful about furniture placement – try where possible to place wardrobes and other large items against internal walls. Leave a gap behind furniture so the air has a chance to circulate.

Finally, don’t ignore maintenance issues – listen to Tenants when they’re reporting a problem to you and act as soon as you can. Fixing things early is usually far more cost effective than tackling a bigger issue a few months down the road.

Again, if you’re in doubt, it’s best to contact a professional for a second opinion. Mould can often be triggered by damaged brickwork or leaking pipes within your internal walls, which a professional should deal with.

If your property is suffering from rising damp, it is best to contact an experienced builder to add a damp-proof course. This will ensure a barrier that blocks water from being absorbed from the ground.

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