Commissioner's Blog: Mould can be a big problem in rentals
With Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard
While WA’s high rainfall this year has been good for farmers and the dams, it has one adverse consequence and that is a spike in enquiries and complaints to Consumer Protection about mould in rental properties.
It is a significant issue with about 1,200 phone enquiries and complaints received since January 2015, mostly during the winter months. Tenants are generally concerned about the impact of the mould on their health and the failure of their landlord or property manager to remedy the problem.
Mould is a fungal growth that thrives on moisture and can grow in homes during the wetter months when conditions are damp, dark and poorly ventilated. Mould can grow in bathrooms, kitchens, cluttered storage areas, wall and roof spaces and behind furniture.
When mould dries out or is disturbed, it releases spores which can cause illness in some people or exacerbate existing health issues; such as asthma, respiratory infections, sinus problems, rashes and watery itchy red eyes.
Mould can also cause unpleasant odours and damage to building materials, contents and structures, which may lead to expensive maintenance or management costs.
The prevention of mould in a rental property requires a joint effort by both the landlord and the tenants. Moisture must be both restricted from entering the premises and from being generated indoors.
Common causes of moisture in the home include: surface water leaking into a building; wet building foundations or rising damp; rain leaking in through a roof or walls; showering, cooking and boiling without exhaust fans or open windows; use of clothes dryers; and indoor plumbing leaks or liquid spills.
Potentially, either party can be at fault for damage caused by mould, depending upon the circumstances.
A landlord could be in breach of the rental agreement if mould develops as a result of not attending to maintenance matters reported by the tenant, such as damp walls caused by plumbing issues, a broken exhaust fan or wall-mounted heating unit, or a leaky roof, broken pipe or flood damage.
Property managers should encourage property owners to clean gutters frequently, so as to reduce the risk of rainwater overflow into the property during storms.
A tenant may be in breach of their rental agreement, if mould develops because they get carpets wet and fail to dry them 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.
Property managers should remind tenants of the need to adequately ventilate the property even when it is cold outside.
If mould causes damage to premises or belongings, the affected party can seek to obtain an order from the Magistrates Court for compensation. The affected party must bear in mind that while the other party may be at fault for causing the damage, the affected party must make every reasonable effort to mitigate their own losses. For example, a tenant should remove their clothing from a wardrobe where mould is growing or the landlord should promptly attend to any reports of dampness before mould can grow.
Consumer Protection can help resolve any disputes over mould damage so call us on 1300 30 40 54 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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