Commissioner's Blog - Mould a growing issue for tenants in winter
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With Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll
In July 2014 Consumer Protection saw a growth in mould issues, raised mostly by tenants but also by landlords and property managers in WA. The seasonal spike, also seen in 2013, can be attributed to cooler, wetter weather and means we’re expecting similar figures around now and in the months up to October.
Mould is a fungus that thrives on moisture and feeds on dust and skin cells, making it important to keep your home dry and to regularly clean and vacuum. However, the majority of enquiries received by Consumer Protection refer to mould issues resulting from allegedly sub-standard housing repairs/renovations, or to cases where purchased services have failed to resolve a pre-existing mould problem.
Under tenancy law (the Residential Tenancies Act) a lessor (landlord) has to:
- keep a rental premises in a reasonable state of repair, keeping in mind the property’s age and character;
- meet building, health and safety requirements; and
- ensure repairs are undertaken in a reasonable period of time.
A tenant must:
- keep the rental property within a reasonable state of cleanliness;
- not intentionally or negligently cause or permit damage; and
- notify the landlord or property manager of any damage, as soon as practicable. Consumer Protection recommends that this is done in writing or followed up in writing if it is an urgent matter reported initially by phone.
Preventing mould requires a joint effort and either party can potentially be at fault for a state of disrepair caused by mould, depending upon the circumstances.
A tenant may be in breach of their rental agreement, by negligently causing damage, if mould develops because they:
- get carpet wet and fail to treat it and dry it out properly;
- don’t aerate a bathroom by using exhaust fans or opening windows;
- leave pools of water on the tiles outside the shower and let scum build up; or
- dry clothing indoors and don’t air the room afterwards.
A landlord could be in breach of the rental agreement for failing to maintain the premises and carry out necessary repairs if mould develops due to:
- a damp wall behind plumbing not attended to despite the tenant reporting it;
- exhaust fans or wall-mounted heating units not being fixed when reported as broken;
- a leaky roof, broken pipe or flood damage; or
- advising a tenant to use cleaner to bleach surface mould instead of addressing the deeper problem.
Either party can be taken to the Magistrates Court in a case where one side is seeking damages. Attempts to mitigate loss (limit the level of damage) will need to be proven. For example a tenant reporting mould on a damp wall in a built-in wardrobe should remove clothing from that wardrobe and should not wait and try to claim for items that have to be thrown away. However, if a landlord fails to address a mould issue and the tenant develops respiratory problems, the tenant might seek costs to cover medical treatment.
- A publication called ‘Mould and Condensation in your Home’, which gives information about mould and how to get rid of it, is available on the Department of Health website: www.public.health.wa.gov.au
- There is a Building Commission guide called ‘Ventilation in buildings’ available at: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/buildingcommission that may help landlords with properties that have potential ventilation issues.
- Additionally there is information on the Consumer Protection website: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection/rental-home-maintenance-and-repairs. Alternatively you can call our contact centre on 1300 30 40 54.
In June 2015, Consumer Protection sent an e-bulletin to property managers to ask them:
- to encourage landlords to undertake more frequent cleaning of gutters so as to reduce the risk of the overflow of rainwater into the property during storms; and
- to remind tenants of the need to adequately aerate the property during winter despite cold temperatures.
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