Friday, 18 April 2014

The dangers of damp

Jennine Morally is a Lambeth Council tenant. When she moved in during 2009, her flat was damp and mouldy. She told the council, but it denied responsibility and said it was condensation.

A year later the damp and mould was worse, so Ms Morally 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, Ms Morally was paid compensation and repairs were carried out.

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.

No improvement
Fast forward another year to 2013 and the bathroom was still damp - not dripping, just damp - and redecorations were ruined. Expert inspection of the flat above showed that the tiling around the bath was falling off the walls and causing the leak into Ms Morally’s flat.

A way to get fast repairs and some compensation is to bring a prosecution under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Environmental Protection Act
The act covers ‘statutory nuisances’, which means premises which are ‘prejudicial to health’, such as being damp and mouldy, infested with pests or with potentially dangerous electrics or inadequate heating. The act also covers common law nuisance, such as a leak from the flat above. Ms Morally gave 21 days’ formal warning of the prosecution to the council. Lambeth replastered and repainted the bathroom ceiling, but did not bother to fix the leak. Criminal proceedings were started on 3 July.

The only defence for these cases is that the problem is not the landlords’ responsibility. In court on 2 August, the judge awarded Ms Morally £500 compensation, which only covers the time since service of the warning notice. Given that the problem was a damp bathroom ceiling - no mould and no dripping at this time - it was an excellent award. Repairs are awaited.

The court can increase compensation and reduce any fine due to the landlord at its discretion. Indeed we asked the court to do so in this case. The judge clearly decided that extra compensation could not be justified but the fine was increased ‘for punitive effect’. The fine of £1,335 shows how seriously the court viewed the offence. The maximum fine is £5,000.

Lessons to be learned

  • Don’t just dismiss damp and mould as condensation. It might be a costly mistake as Lambeth found in this case.
  • Ignoring condensation, damp and mould and blaming the problem on the tenant may not solve the problem; it may come back and bite landlords with a criminal conviction.
  • Get proper advice at an early stage - the cause may be the tenant’s behaviour, but it might be something more serious.

Timothy Waitt, partner, Anthony Gold Solicitors

Readers' comments (5)

  • I thank Mr Timothy Waitt for taking the time to give more background information to the Lambeth case.

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  • The situation on mould and damp has been one that has been not treated with the respect it should have been.

    For too long, the answer has been condensation open a window, let this be a lesson to others that take the situation so lightly.

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  • On average 5,000 UK homes are being diagnosed with damp each week. Dampness leads to Asthma which is the cause of 1,143 deaths each year in the UK of which 90% are totally preventable.

    We've created an infographic to show the connection between dampness in homes which is prevalent in the UK and the high proportion of asthma.

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  • I'm seeing a growing trend in damp proofing companies latching on to the latest health scares relating to the alleged affects on human health relating to damp. This example from London and Home Counties is a prime example and should be seen for what it is, a marketing tool.
    We're informed that 5000 homes are being diagnosed as being damp on a weekly basis but diagnosed by who? My guess is that these statistics are primarily generated by PCA members because there aren't enough independent experts in the UK to generate those sort of numbers. The PCA are an unregulated trade body whose members have a vested interest in finding damp properties and there is still a trend towards their members offering free surveys in the knowledge that fee's will be generated when they diagnose damp and subsequent remedial works. The training and qualifications offered are also unregulated. If we're going to have debate about the number of properties affected by damp in the UK then lets at least start with meaningful statistics. Less than 5% of damp properties in the UK at affected by rising damp, it is incredibly rare and has very little impact on the prevalence of mould and dust mites. Condensation damp is the prime facilitator for these conditions but then your average damp proofing company can offer very little in the way of remediation works for condensation damp. The causes are nearly always multi factorial and the investigation work required to identify all causes can be protracted and not achievable through your average free survey.

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  • I would like some advice about getting help, am having problems with my Landlord and tenant above my flat. The problem is leaking water running into my flat just over 1 year total of sixth leaks and nothing is not done to stop the leaks. The Landlord, MP, Housing Ombudsman Service, Local Housing Authority, Law center, solicitor all useless and wont help me get rehouse regardless the size of property, what do I need to do can someone give me advice in what direction do I need to go. Insurance would not even pay me out either pointless having one.

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