Understanding damp, mould and condensation: how to avoid deposit issues

In this article, Head of Dispute Resolution at mydeposits, Suzy Hershman, offers advice on how to avoid deposit issues at the end of the tenancy relating to damp, mould and condensation.

Although the landlord is legally responsible for making sure that a rental property is safe and remains in good condition throughout the  tenancy, tenants do have their own responsibility to take reasonable steps to look after the property while they are living there.

If the property does suffer damage during the tenancy and the landlord has evidence to prove that it was caused or made worse by the tenants’ actions (or lack of action), the landlord may be able to retain part of the deposit when the tenant leaves. So it’s important for tenants to take care of their rented home and always report in writing (ideally an email which will be time and date stamped) any problems with the condition of the property – including the fixtures and services – as soon as they notice them, with the aim of resolving them at the time and avoiding any dispute at the end.

As the landlord or managing agent, you have a duty of care to respond to the tenant in a reasonable time with a plan. Of course, if you are an agent you may need to contact your landlord, but always keep the tenant informed at reasonable intervals.

Protect your deposit today

If you have taken a cash deposit, you must protect it in a government authorised scheme within 30 calendar days

The three types of damp 

Damp and mould fall into three categories, each with a different cause. The first two are very much the landlord’s responsibility to fix: rising damp and penetrating damp. 

With rising damp, moisture is seeping into the property from the ground, so it only generally affects basements and rooms on the ground floor, creating damp patches up to a height of around one metre. In this case, the landlord needs to have this professionally diagnosed and may need a new damp proof course installed.

Penetrating damp is where water gets into the property from outside due to maintenance issues, such as cracks in the roof tiles or brickwork and blocked or broken guttering causing rainwater to run down the outside of the walls.

With rising and penetrating damp, mould can start to grow and may spread behind wallpaper and tiles, so the tenant may not even know it’s there until there’s a sign of a growing problem. That’s why it’s important that tenants know to report any sign of damp immediately, in writing to the landlord or the managing agent.

In contrast, the third type of damp, condensation, is the result of moisture created through the tenants’ everyday activities – including showering, cooking and drying clothes – being unable to escape from the property. When this damp, warm air meets a cold surface, it settles and condenses into water.

If left, it will attract mould spores and mildew will form, so it’s important that the tenant knows how to deal with this when it happens and takes all the steps they can to ventilate the property well to prevent any damage. This might mean using fans you have fitted, or simply opening windows to air the property.


Case study: deposit dispute over mould

This case highlights the importance of reporting issues as soon as the tenant notices them, and also of ventilating your rental property. You can read the full version of this case study here

At the end of a tenancy, the check-out report recorded mould spots all over the bathroom ceiling and large patches of mould in the bedroom. The landlord requested £550 from the £1,200 deposit, to cover removing mould and towards the redecoration cost.

The tenant said that:

  • there was mould in the bathroom at the start of the tenancy which got worse because the extractor fan did not work
  • mould started showing in the bedroom a few months into the tenancy, which was reported to the agent but there was no response
  • they did their best to ventilate the property and remove the mould, but it kept coming back

The managing agent’s response was:

  • while the landlord was aware of some mould in the bathroom, it got significantly worse while the tenant lived there, so they would like a contribution towards removing the mould and re-painting
  • there is no record of the tenant reporting mould in the bedroom, which was only discovered at the pre-checkout inspection
  • the decorator said that the mould in the bedroom appeared to have been caused by a lack of ventilation and not allowing airflow between items of furniture and the walls

The adjudicator decided that:

  • the check-in report noted mould spots on the right-hand side of the bathroom ceiling at the start of the tenancy, with the décor in all other areas recorded as being in good condition. The bathroom extractor fan was ‘not tested’  
  • the tenant was not responsible for the mould spread in the bathroom. Although the evidence showed that the ceiling was left in a worse condition, mould was there at the start of the tenancy and mid-term property visits reported the slow spread of the spots, yet no work was ever carried out by the landlord to address the problem
  • the landlord was awarded 30% of the cost of redecorating the bedroom for two key reasons: 

(1) the tenant was responsible for not reporting the issue and (2) the lack of ventilation, combined with the furniture being pushed too close to the wall, had exacerbated the problem.

How the tenant could have avoided losing any of their deposit funds

In our opinion, if the tenant had taken the following steps, the adjudicator would be unlikely to have awarded any of their deposit funds to the landlord:

  1. Asked at check-in that the mould issue in the bathroom be resolved 
  2. Requested that the extractor fan was fixed as soon as they realised it wasn’t working
  3. Taken a photograph of the mould in the bedroom and reported the problem to the agent in writing and then followed it up when they didn’t get a response
  4. Made sure that the bedroom and bathroom were properly ventilated
  5. Reported any additional mould growth in writing

Protect your deposit today

If you have taken a cash deposit, you must protect it in a government authorised scheme within 30 calendar days

Top tips for keeping your property free from condensation and mildew

Ventilation is key to keeping condensation to a minimum, through a combination of using extractor fans (where the landlord has installed them), and tenants opening windows to allow air to circulate. Although during the winter tenants might be reluctant to open the windows and let any heat out, it’s important that they still make every effort to ventilate rooms where condensation is likely to accumulate.

We’d suggest that in the kitchen and bathroom, for example, you advise tenants to  follow these steps:

  1. Keep the door closed while cooking/washing so that the excess moisture doesn’t spread around the whole house 
  2. Use the extractor fan and/or open a window to let the steam escape
  3. When cooking, use lids on saucepans to contain the steam 
  4. Close the door again after using the room and leave it to ventilate for a short while 
  5. Close the window and leave the door ajar so it can slowly warm up again, without a rush of cold air flooding into the rest of the property

Around the property:

  • When condensation forms on windows, it can run down and pool on the window sill – make sure to wipe this away so it doesn’t attract mould spores
  • Avoid drying wet clothes on radiators and keep the space around them clear so the warm air can circulate properly
  • Make sure any room used for hanging out laundry is well ventilated
  • Keep the thermostat at a minimum of 15°C in very cold weather – not only will this help reduce condensation levels in the property, but it will also protect the pipework from freezing

Also see Total Landlord’s tenant checklist  which you can share with your tenants to help them understand how to recognise the different types of damp and mould, and what to do if they find it in your rental home.

By taking the steps above, carrying out regular mid-term inspections and making sure your tenants know to report any signs of damp and mould immediately, in writing, you will be doing all you can to  avoid a dispute over repair costs at the end of the tenancy.

For more information on damp, mould and condensation in rental properties,  listen to Total Landlord’s podcast for landlords and agents on this topic, with advice from Julie Ford, Adviser at HF Assist and Suzy Hershman, Head of Dispute Resolution at mydeposits. You can also read Total Landlord’s ultimate guide to identifying and preventing damp, mould and condensation in your rental property.

You may also be interested in reading a Property Redress Scheme case study on the topic of mould due to an agent’s lack of managing the property, which highlights the importance of inspections and the need for agents to respond in a timely manner to communications between landlords and agents.