Mould in the headlines again: whats a landlord to do?

The tragic case of two-year old Awaab Ishak apparently succumbing to a respiratory illness due to condensation mould in a Rochdale social housing flat has hit the headlines this week. This awful event throws a harsh spotlight on mould in rented properties, and the predictable media circus that points blame in our direction alarms all agents and landlords who work hard to maintain good standards for our tenants in decent homes.

Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the NRLA, handled questioning well on Breakfast Time on the BBC this week, expressing proper condolences while also pointing out that improved levels of enforcement by Councils to weed out problem landlords would be in all our interests.

Can you blame tenant lifestyle?

Of course, what many landlords know full well is that whenever we do inspections we find that tenant lifestyle behaviours contribute hugely to the growth of mould: the quarterly inspection regime we follow in all our managed properties regularly throws up issues of tenants blocking ventilation points to conserve heat, covering radiators with washing, and not using extraction properly or at all in bathrooms or when cooking. But the Housing Ombudsman has made clear that it is not an acceptable response to a complaint about condensation mould in rented properties to blame tenants’ lifestyles, so the onus is on landlords and agents to ensure we are doing all we can to deal with the problem.

Of course right now the desire to avoid heat loss is completely understandable – the costs of energy are a huge and rising issue. Ventilation and insulation are the two major solutions to problems of condensation mould that we point our landlords towards.

Remember, a family produces 3-4 gallons of water moisture every day just by breathing: add to that cooking and bathing, and a huge amount of water enters a house and potentially settles on cold walls inevitably leading to condensation, and then to black mould with all the airborne spores that creates. So landlords have to ask themselves if their properties include trickle vents for the simplest ventilation, their extractor fans work efficiently (not just rumble away ineffectively in the background), airbricks have not been blocked, and their agents are passing on good advice about how to prevent condensation mould in rented properties to their tenants.

Landlord regulation is increasing

I think it’s fair to suggest that the Decent Homes Standard which will be introduced for private rentals as part of the Renters Reform Bill will make even more stringent demands upon landlords, and no amount of complaint that tenants have caused condensation mould will matter a jot if landlords have not sought to ensure homes are well-ventilated and that they have good insulation that contributes to warmer housing.

The weight of landlord rules and regulations is enormous. The prospect of huge £30,000 fines for non-compliant landlords in certain cases, and even jail sentences for the worst offenders, mean the need for compliance is ever-rising (and let’s be clear, rightly so, as those of us that deliver great homes for our tenants want action taken against poor landlords that we would rather didn’t blight our sector). At Northwood Leicester we totally understand the weight landlords bear in dealing with the 170-odd pieces of rental legislation that relate to our sector, as we deal with these daily – most landlords of course don’t, and can’t realistically be expected to know the ins and outs of the rules and regs. We are always happy to advise on best practice for all landlord compliance.

Your EPC is a good guide to the best insulation and energy actions

We complete the very best Domestic Energy Assessments in the EPC’s that we directly undertake for clients. So we are in good position to advise on what insulation investment actions that you take now would best improve your rented housing for tenants (and improve your EPC rating to safeguard your investment…a whole bigger subject for another time)

For the moment, as the terribly sad experience of the Ishak family highlights, it’s right to focus even more effort on dealing with the ways our housing copes with cold, with energy costs, damp, and with condensation as winter heads our way.