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Inconsistent: New government guidance on damp and mould in the home

The government has recently unveiled critical new guidelines on damp and mould in residential properties. This update is not just another document to skim through; it’s a must-read for landlords and property management firms, especially in light of the heartbreaking incident that triggered its release.

The Catalyst: A Tragic Loss

The urgency for this new guidance was precipitated by the devastating loss of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old who tragically passed away due to complications from mould exposure. Despite multiple complaints from Awaab’s family, their landlord failed to address the mould issue, leading to irreversible consequences.

Key Takeaways from the New Guidance

The government’s new guidelines aim to clarify the responsibilities of landlords and tenants concerning damp and mould. Here are some pivotal points:

  • Tenant Accountability: The guidance firmly states that tenants are not to be blamed for damp and mould issues, dismissing the notion that these problems arise from ‘lifestyle choices.’
  • Landlord Responsibilities: Landlords are unequivocally responsible for identifying and rectifying the root causes of damp and mould in their properties.
  • Reporting Mechanism: Tenants are encouraged to promptly report any damp or mould concerns, and landlords are expected to investigate and take appropriate action swiftly.
  • Preventive Measures: The guidelines also offer advice on risk mitigation, emphasizing the importance of well-ventilated and adequately heated properties, along with the prompt repair of any leaks.

The Grey Areas: Inconsistencies in the Guidance

While the guidance aims commendably to mitigate the risks associated with damp and mould in residential settings—a clearly vital objective—it does introduce some elements that could confound even the most experienced property professionals. Specifically, the guidelines assert that damp and mould are not attributable to ‘lifestyle choices.’ However, they simultaneously acknowledge that tenant behaviour can indeed contribute to mould-related issues, advising landlords to “educate tenants on preventive measures where applicable and appropriate.” This raises the question: Should landlords still be held accountable if tenants ignore guidance on mould prevention?

Purple Frog’s Commitment to Addressing Damp and Mould

At Purple Frog, we have always prioritized the health and safety of our tenants. Whenever we receive reports of damp or mould, our expert property managers conduct a thorough investigation to identify any structural or underlying issues. Necessary remedial works are carried out promptly. If the root cause is found to be tenant behaviour we take steps to educate the tenants on effective prevention methods and recommend any feasible property improvements to the landlord.

Key Government Messages

Health risks: Damp and mould primarily affect the airways and lungs, but they can also affect the eyes and skin. The respiratory effects of damp and mould can cause serious illness and, in the most severe cases, death (see ‘Health effects of damp and mould’). The tragic death of Awaab Ishak was the result of a severe respiratory condition due to prolonged exposure to mould in a home with inadequate ventilation.

The presence of damp and mould can also affect tenants’ mental health. This could be due to worries about the health impacts of damp and mould, unpleasant living conditions, and destruction of property and belongings, among other concerns.

Everyone is vulnerable to the health impacts of damp and mould, but people with certain health conditions, children and older adults are at greater risk of more severe health impacts (see ‘People at increased risk from damp and mould’).

Regulation on damp and mould in social and private rented properties: Private and social landlords must adhere to a number of regulations related to damp and mould (see ‘Legal standards on damp and mould in rented homes’). A lack of compliance can place a landlord at risk of prosecution or financial penalties. The legislation and standards are sometimes different for social and private rented landlords, but include:

Works to the heating and ventilation systems and replacement of windows are all controlled work. When undertaking controlled work, landlords must comply with the Building Regulations 2010.

Responding to reports of damp and mould: When responding to reports of damp and mould landlords should:

  • respond sensitively and assess the issue with urgency to identify the severity of the damp and mould and potential risks to tenants
  • always tackle the underlying issue promptly, and act with urgency when concerns have been raised about tenant health. Landlords should not delay action to await medical evidence or opinion – medical evidence is not a requirement for action
  • ensure tenants are informed about the steps that will be taken to remove mould and address any underlying issues and the timeframes for the work
  • prior to the removal of the mould, photograph and document the location of the mould, to help identify the source
  • remove the mould, to address the health risk to tenants, using a qualified professional when appropriate
  • identify and tackle the underlying causes of damp and mould, including building deficiencies, inadequate ventilation and condensation. Simply removing surface mould will not prevent the damp and mould from reappearing
  • inspect the home at least 6 weeks after remedial work has been carried out, to ensure that the issue has been fixed and damp and mould have not reappeared. If damp and mould have reappeared, further investigation and intervention should be pursued

See ‘Identifying and addressing damp and mould in your property’.

Taking a proactive approach to reduce the risk of damp and mould: Landlords – irrespective of whether they own one or multiple homes – should adopt a proactive approach to the identification and tackling of damp and mould. This should include:

  • having clear processes in place to document, manage and act on reports of damp and mould and to identify common issues and trends in their housing stock
  • understanding the condition of their homes and using this to adopt a preventative approach to dealing with damp and mould, making the necessary interventions to ventilation, energy efficiency and building deficiencies before damp and mould occur
  • understanding that some homes are more difficult to heat, either due to their energy efficiency or cost of living pressures, and that this can make damp and mould more likely to occur. Landlords should consider what support they can provide or signpost tenants to
  • supporting tenants to understand what they can do to reduce damp and mould, where applicable and appropriate. This must never be a substitute for addressing the underlying causes of damp and mould
  • building relationships with health and social care and other frontline professionals supporting tenants to ensure that every opportunity to identify tenants living in homes with damp and mould is utilised, ‘making every contact count’
  • ensuring staff and any external contractors are aware of the significant health risks associated with damp and mould, the need to address the underlying causes of the issue and not just remove visible mould, are aware of any processes associated with reporting and addressing damp and mould, and understand the importance of being sensitive to tenants’ circumstances and vulnerabilities
  • building relationships with tenants, ensuring that tenants feel encouraged to report damp and mould

See ‘Reducing the risk of damp and mould developing’.”

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