Mould and the rental property: Real estate bulletin issue 154 (August 2017)
Consumer Protection receives many enquiries from tenants about the presence of mould in their rental properties. The tenants are often concerned about the impact of the mould on their health, and the failure of the agency to remedy the problem.
As you would be aware, mould is a fungal growth that thrives on moisture. It 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 the rental property requires a joint effort by both the lessor and the tenants. Moisture must be both restricted from entering the premises and from being generated indoors.
Common sources of moisture in the home include:
- surface water leaking into a building
- wet building foundations (e.g. rising damp)
- rain leaking in through a roof or walls
- poor ventilation
- showering, cooking and boiling without adequate ventilation (exhaust fans/open windows)
- use of clothes dryers and unflued gas heaters without adequate ventilation
- indoor plumbing leaks
- indoor liquid spills
- storing large amounts of water absorbent materials, such as books or cardboard boxes, in a damp space
Potentially, either party can be at fault for damage caused by mould, depending upon the circumstances.
What is the Lessor's Responsibility?
Under tenancy law, the lessor must:
- keep rental premises in a reasonable state of repair;
- meet building, health and safety requirements; and
- ensure repairs are undertaken in a reasonable period of time.
A lessor 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.
What is the tenant's responsibility?
Under tenancy law, tenants must:
- keep a rental property in 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.
A tenant may be in breach of their rental agreement, 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.
Property managers should remind tenants of the need to adequately ventilate the property during winter despite cold temperatures.
If mould causes damage to the 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, the tenant should remove their clothing from a wardrobe where mould is growing or the lessor should promptly attend to any reports of dampness before mould can grow.
Further information and assistance is available from:
- The Department of Health publications Mould and dampness and Guidelines for Managing Mould and Dampness Related Public Health Risks in Buildings.
- The Building Commission guide Ventilation in buildings may be of help to landlords with properties that have potential ventilation issues.
Additionally, there is information on rental home maintenance and repairs page.
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