Damp,mould and disrepair- Professional Advice Please
08/05/2011 3:41 pm
Can any Housing Professional please give me their in put on this case?
We are local authority tenants with a secured tenancy and have been complaining on several times about damp in our property, appearing in bedrooms and black mould as a result have also started to growing on walls and ceiling of the kitchens and bedrooms.
Our housing officer recently visited and dismissed this as condensation and has placed the blame down to our lifestyle choice basically saying it is our responsibility to provide more effective heating and ventilation and that they will not be taking any further actions to investigate or remedy this.
We obviously disagree with this as we are wusing our heating and we are not "drying our washing inside the flat". We are concerned that mould is starting to grow on daughters bedroom wall.
We dont feel we have been treated correctly and don think our housing officer acted right. Do you agree?
Also do you haveany advice for us? Is there any laws protecting us ? and what can we do.
Our friends have told us this is a disrepair and we can take legal action? can any professional people please give us advise on this?
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08/05/2011 8:45 pm
I would ask for the Housing Officer Manager full name and contact details and ask them to investigate or go to the Complaint Procedures under a Stage Number Complaint. If you have written evidence and did the HO say this verbally or in writing
Or contact the Environmental Health Officer whom will come out and place a order on your Landlord under Health Hazard
09/05/2011 1:50 am
Im a Housing Officer and would advise that you approach your local authority env. health department for advice.
Mould can often be affected by lifestyle such as lots of people in the property at one time, no ventalation, etc. so they may not be at fault. You can also approach a solicitor firm who specialise in Housing and they could assist in litigation against your landlord.
Id also query why your Housing Officer came out to advise you.......................we arn't trained to assess these things. That's why RSL's have surveyors.
09/05/2011 9:03 am
you can, and should in my opinion, request that your landlord send an independant surveyor specialising in damp/condensation and its prevention/cure.
this may be suggested as a result of an "official" complaint.
as has been said above, mould can be caused by many things. bodyheat while sleeping can cause mould around windows in bedrooms, steam from baths / showers can cause it in bathrooms around windows / on cold external walls, ditto in kitchens with cooking moisture.
the only effective way ive been able to tackle it in my own home is opening windows when cooking, using "trickle vents" on windows (even in winter) in bedrooms and leaving the bathroom door open when showering. and i still have some mould around window sills - i also use a mould wash (available from B&Q) once a year just to wash it off and help stop it coming back.
generally speaking social housing stock is more prone to this mould due to the quality of windows, poor thermal insultation between walls / floors and (in my opinion) poor external rendering.
sorry for the long post but to summarise:
1) ask them to register your disagreement of opinion as a stage 1 complaint stating that you believe the cause of the mould NOT to be lifestyle or condensation.
2) speak to your council to ask for an environmental health officer to inspect the property.
3) ask your landlord if they will consider an independant damp specialist to investigate.
one final thing. you do not mention if you live in the ground floor or not. if not it is highly unlikely to be damp, but there could be a leak from a property above you.
hope all that helps.
09/05/2011 3:57 pm
Yes, you can approach the Environmental Health Department and ask them to assess whether the problem constitutes a 'statutory nuisance' under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This could be defined as such if the problem is seen to be 'prejudicial to health'. If any of the occupants suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems this is more likely. The drawback here is that the Environmental Health Dept cannot take its own council to court, so you would have to take proceedings yourself (or another so-called 'agreived person' who is affected by the damp. Of course what is the main issue is the cause of the problem. Depending on the identified cause - and an indpendent surveyor will be able to judge this - the landlord may have a legal duty to rectify, which could be by improving heating, venilation or insulation - or a combination of these. My advice would be to contact either a housing solicitor, or a law centre, or a CAB to take this further. This could go in tandem with a complaint against the landlord.
09/05/2011 7:48 pm
This is a technical issue and advice should be from your maintenance and repair department. Housing Officers are often approached about techincal issues because they frequently visit residents at home, which is when a customer is most likely to approach a member of staff about all kinds of issues. You should contact your repairs line and give your housing provider the opportunity to carry out a survey. Mould spores don't generally grow in damp conditions, which means this is probably a condensation issue and the problem should be 'managed' by the resident. However, your housing provider should check that the building meets ventilation and insualtion requirements. If I was carrying out a survey I would check that all doors are present, mechanical ventilation is available if natural ventillattion is not; if the heating adequate? I would also check the cavity wall and loft insulation, to ensure cold bridging isn't an issue. Visit your housing providers web site to try and obtain further advise.
14/05/2011 7:24 pm
I agree with the advice above in general but I believe that as Tina suggets you start with the internal processes as going straight to the Env, Health is not always the quickest most effective way and often in some areas will be reffered to your landlord before they deal with (if they have not dealt with it). Condensation is a big cause of problems but there are many other possibilities but ofeten condensation does assist in the advance of damp/mould.
All the best and make sure you use the complaints process internally so you can then pass to Env Health and Ombudsmen if there is failure and you can request independent surveyors etc in extreme cases.
31/05/2011 6:18 pm
In my experience black mould growth is most commonly a consequence of condensation dampness, so the housing officer’s initial assessment may be correct. Black mould develops on cold wet surfaces, this is associated with condensation, since the cold temperature causes moisture to condense out of the air, consequently leading to the cold wet conditions.
Each report of damp and mould growth should be treated differently and surveyed on its individual merit, there are many contributable factors to damp and mould.
The assessment should take account of the possibility of there being defects within the property which could contribute to the dampness problem. Typically there might be the presence of penetrating damp through external walls and ceilings, or the presence of rising damp in the walls. The surveyor should also take into account elements of the construction, which might lead to excessive heat loss and cooling of the wall and ceiling surfaces which attracts condensation moisture from the air. The provision of satisfactory insulation on the ceilings, whether the walls are solid brickwork or cavity brickwork and whether the cavity walls have been insulated should be considered. The orientation or position of the property may also be relevant, for instance north facing rooms receive little warmth from the sun and may consequently be colder and more prone to condensation developing.
An assessment of ventilation within the property should also be made, for instance living rooms and bedrooms should have windows which are easy to open, and which provide a means of evacuating damp air from the property, and kitchens and bathrooms should have air bricks at the very least and preferably moisture activating extractor fans fitted.
There are two pieces of legislation that may apply to your case, one as you state will be Section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 (disrepair), and the other that may apply will be Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (statutory nuisance). There are lots of solicitors out there that work on a ‘no win no fee’ basis and would probably take on your case if you wanted to go down this route.
I would personally advise you though to pursue this problem through your landlord’s complaints procedure, and then if you are still not satisfied with the outcome, you could take your case to the Local Government Ombudsman, who will deal with your case fairly and properly.
31/05/2011 7:01 pm
Shaun is spot on.
Modern housing and enforced lifestyles often clash to cause mould growth. The designing out of draughts and heat loss has also designed out ventilation. Fear of crime, and heat loss, means that leaving windows open is not common.
If you examined the amount of moisture respired out through an average night you would understand why condensation is such a problem.
That said, there should be a proper examination of the walls concerned to establish if there is any structural issue, or any water penetration that is causing the problem.
I once lived for several years arguing with the landlord that my 'lifestyle condensation' was water penetration. This was eventually found to be the case, but it took persistance and the intervention of the Building Research Establishment to convince them of the case. The outcome was demolition, so it definately was a little more serious than condensation!
I hope that you follow Shaun's advice and that a satisfactory outcome. Meanwhile some tips
Do not use any liquid to clean off the mould, not even bleach. There are products you can buy, but even these may only feed the mould (I used one that changed the black mould to red - it was a change but not a cure). Mould is very robust and breeds when wet. Choose a dry cool day to wipe off the surface mould with a dry cloth (wear a face mask and ventilate the room so the spores are not inhaled, and hopefully are removed). Keep furniture away from outside walls allowing airflow to minimise the chance of damp forming. Remove the wallpaper as this may trap moisture and provide a root for the mould.
Once again, good luck.
01/06/2011 12:49 pm
The repairing obligation of any landlord is to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property. That means that unless there is disrepair to the structure and exterior, the landlord has no duty to carry out repairs. Where there is condensation leading to mould growth, the landlord is only liable under your tenancy agreement and under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 if the condensation is caused by a defect in the structure or exterior of the property or due to for instance any defects in the heating system. Even if the landlord is not liable under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, the Landlord may well be liable under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I think the starting point is for you all to go and see a specialist housing solicitor who can instruct a suitably qualified expert to determine the cause of the mould and that solicitor will be able to advice as to the appropriate further action.
01/06/2011 12:59 pm
Abimbola - do you not think advising a rush to litigation when the tenant has not explored all the options with the landlord is a little excessive?
Instructing experts incurs cost which may not be able to be recovered when the court hears the tenant did not take the matter to a manager, or access the complaints procedure to attempt more commensurate resolution.
I think the tenant would be better placed to follow the advice of Shaun, who's approach seems more responsible.
01/06/2011 1:09 pm
@ Chris you are entitled to your opinion. If you carefully read what the tenants have said they are clearly not sure what to do. Their landlord has said that it is not its problem so the tenants need to find out who is actually responsible. The realistic way of doing that is to seek advice and ascertain the cause of the problem. It may not lead to litigation at all. Most local authorities that I have dealt with are more likely to deal with matters more seriously and promptly when they see an expert's report. The expert may well conclude that the problem lies with the tenants in which case there will be no question of litigation. That was why I used the words "appropriate further action" which in the circumstances may mean no action at all.
01/06/2011 1:13 pm
Thanks Abimbola, but who pays for the expert? Mine cost me £1,500 and that was many years ago.
01/06/2011 1:22 pm
Chris it all depends on their means. If they are not able to afford the costs and they qualify, the public funding scheme will cover the expert's costs. It will be cheaper per property than the figure you have quoted because there is usually a limit on costs to be incurred at the investigative stage.
01/06/2011 1:41 pm
From a housing worker point of view - pursue the landlord through their procedures, then if all esle fails, resort to litigation.
From a lawyers point of view - start legal proceedings, and hope the taxpayer will pay the lawyer.
No vested interest in the opinion then!
07/06/2011 11:33 pm
There's such a mixed bag of advice here, some good, some not so good and some terrible, that I felt the need to give a definitive response... Condensation is by far the most common cause of damp in social housing, however you cannot walk into a property and make a diagnosis based on nothing more than mould on the walls. Mould can result from any form of damp and at best can be a strong indicator that condensation damp is present. It's a great get out clause for maintenance surveyors or housing inspectors to put dampness and mould down to 'lifestyle' and abdicate responsibility back to the tenant but based on what proof? Condensation damp is caused by any one of a number of problems. Poor/inadequate heating, poor ventilation management, poor thermal insulation of the building fabric or occupancy. By occupancy we mean that even the process of breathing adds moisture to the atmosphere, cooking, bathing, drying washing, using non condensing tumble dryers etc can all add to the relative humidity in the property. In my experience there is always a need to address a combination of these issues and the reasonable and professional approach is to state that there is a shared obligation in resolving these issues. Residents hate to be told that they have to 'manage' these problems and landlords equally hate to be told that there are potential disrepair issues. My pet hate is surveyors who have habitually turned up to assess condensation damp issues and simply tell residents to open the windows and turn up the heating. This is plain bad advice... we know that warm air holds more moisture than cold air so why would you let that warm air straight out of the window and turn the heating up even more? Ventilation is important but it has to be carefully managed by judicious use of extractor fans or preferably heat recovery units which are starting to edge into the ventilation market.
If I do a damp survey then I turn up with kit worth a great deal of money. I have a Hygromaster which tells me the relative humidity and dew point temperatures, I have a laser thermometer which tells me if wall surface temperatures are below dew point temperature but I also have equipment that allows me to survey for other forms of damp such as deep wall probes to help me rule out penetrating damp. It's negligent to only survey for one form of damp, it's beyond negligent to make a diagnosis after having carried out no tests whatsoever and a court would see it that way. The industry is incredibly poorly educated to deal with damp and if you think you'll get a more knowledgable response from environmental health then think again, they have no expertise in this field whatsoever. It would be very easy to prove a case of disrepair against any landlord but you would need a full damp survey carried out by someone with expertise in this field, not someone from a damp company who has a vested interest in selling you dpc injection, they're very poorly qualified too and generally have a limited expertise in this area.
Simple questions to ask yourself are:
1. Do you live in a well insulated property with double glazing?
2. Have you got a controllable heating system with heat emitters in every room?
3. Have you got extractor fans fitted to the kitchen and bathroom?
4. Is your property water tight?
If the answer to all these questions is yes then there are probably no disrepair issues and you'll need to manage your heating and ventilation better you have been. However, if you feel you fall short in any of these areas then you might have a case for disrepair. There is case law in this area. I think it's Welch V Greenwich Borough Council. the Tenant Miss Welch took her landlord to court and was awarded damages for her landlords failure to resove dampness to her property over a seven year period.
One last thing I will say is that I've seen properties with condensation damp running down the walls for no other reason than the property was severely over-occupied. In these cases housing management have to step in and consider relocating to a larger property, I've had to do this on one occasion.
08/06/2011 5:47 pm
One has to smile as the pat answers come out , As a tenant of a property owned by council now housing association i had loads of problems with damp and mould growth and was told like you that it was my life style all my own fault strange then after going to court to get repairs done that i have had no damp or mould problems in the last year i can honestly say that my life style is still the same but the house has been repaired so i would say that the damp and mould is caused by poor housing stock and is easily, if expensivly, solved by pointing up the outside and injecting the walls along with making sure there is a good damp proof course the only reason councils and housing associations blame the tenant is because the cure is too costly .
09/06/2011 3:29 pm
Innefficient heating is also to blame- how many social tenants live in houses with 20+ year old 'economy (yeah right) 7 storage heaters that cost a fortune to run? Of course the heaters are not themselves to blame, but put them in a house with people on low incomes, and worse still in flats where there is nowhere to dry washing and you have a combination of cold house mosture and not enough maintainence= mould and damp.
As other posters have said, it's not always the tenants fault, but often, even if there are actions they can take it's not going to actually solve the problem!
I speak as someone with experience- I had the damned things for 4 years and the only reason I didn't have damp is because I had them on all the time at a cost of £70 per month and never shut my internal doors.
14/06/2011 11:45 am
Other experts have already commented on this, but I would just add that you could check with your neighbours and see if they have a similar problem. If you are living, for example, in a 1960/70’s concrete framed building and have rooms which are on the flank (side) walls, and you are living on an upper storey, then there is a risk of ‘cold bridging’ where cold un insulated walls are more likely to a place where water moisture will condense. If your neighbours suffer from similar problems, then the problem may be about the building rather than your ‘lifestyle’. But with more modern traditional construction this is harder to judge. With summer seemingly here early you could try an experiment. Clear off the old mould growth and kill off the spores with a proprietary cleaner- and see if the mould growth re appears. Keep windows open an see what happens. Your Housing Officer may be right, but if you are regularly opening windows in the kitchen and bathroom and any mechanical ventilation is working (check), then this is less likely.