Damp and Condensation advice

Dealing with damp & condensation: Tips for landlords

Mould, damp and condensation can make the lives of landlords and tenants difficult not just because of the obvious physical unpleasantness, but also because of the ill-feeling, mistrust, misunderstandings they can bring about between the two parties.

Confusion about the cause (and who is legally responsible for dealing with it) abounds and in some cases it can lead to the end of a tenancy: either the tenants give notice and move out if they feel the landlord has failed to meet his or her obligations, or the landlord decides to pursue an eviction.

This is a pity, because with the right approach, taken early on, and solid landlord-tenant relationship, there shouldn’t be any need for things to develop this way.

With this in mind, we’ve put together some tips and advice for landlords on dealing with mould, damp and condensation in their rental properties.

Is there a difference between damp and condensation?

Condensation is the turning of a vapour (back) into a liquid. In the everyday sense, it happens when humid air – carrying lots of water vapour – comes into contact with a cold surface. The problem is worse when the air is warm, which is why a lot of it collects after hot showers for example.

Condensation isn’t usually due to a structural defect as such, and by changing their behaviour tenants will often be able to reduce the problem through taking actions like:

  • opening windows while having a bath/shower
  • drying clothes outdoors
  • keeping the lid on saucepans while cooking.

However, that’s not to say that it’s always 100% in the tenant’s power to deal with a condensation problem. For example, the bathroom may have no window or ventilation or the heating system may be broken or insufficient.

Technically speaking, condensation may be called a type of damp problem, but many people do not really consider it a damp issue at all, even though it can become serious if mould is left to grow. When most people think about damp problems, they’re thinking of rising or penetrating damp, which can be harder to treat. We’ll come to these next, but first, here is some advice on handling condensation.

Dealing with condensation: Advice for landlords

If your tenant raises the issue, take it seriously from the outset. If they have taken the time to contact you about it, it follows that the problem isn’t likely to have been brought about through laziness on their part. Even if there are ways you educate your tenants about how to reduce the problem, there could still be other ways you could help too. These could include installing a bathroom heater or putting in a vent if necessary.

Understanding the different types of damp

The way to deal with damp depends on where it’s coming from. Rising damp, as its name suggests, occurs when moisture is drawn upwards from the ground. Penetrating damp is the result of rain water making its way through the walls after they lose their ability to keep it out. Let’s look at both forms of damp in more depth now.

Penetrating damp

Some of the tell-tale signs of penetrating damp include:

  • wet/damp patches or even moss growing on internal walls
  • damage to plaster or paintwork
  • rotting timber, such as on a picture rail or skirting board
  • surface damage to bricks (called ‘spalling’)
  • drips and puddles.

Other symptoms like a mouldy smell prevailing through the property could reveal penetrating damp but could equally be a sign of condensation or rising damp.

The causes of penetrating damp are unlikely to be anything the tenant has done. Typically, it results from aging or damaged bricks that can no longer keep out the rain, plumbing issues, or defects in the design or construction of the building.

Treating penetrating damp

The first step is to check everything in and around the property, focusing on gutters, windows, rendering and downpipes for damage or obstructions. Ideally, you’ll be able to stop the water entering at its source. This might involve:

  • resealing windows and/or door frames
  • sealing the wall(s) with a sealing treatment
  • repointing (replacing the mortar between the bricks)
  • replacing gutters and downpipes.

Your ability to undertake these as well as more drastic measures will depend on your skills, experience and the scale of the problem. If in doubt, call an expert.

Rising damp

The most common sign of rising damp is a horizontal tide line on the wall(s) which indicates the height to which the moisture has risen. It might appear that the paintwork or wallpaper is obviously stained a darker colour beneath the line, or possibly that the surface has cracked, bobbled or come away.

There are two most common causes of rising damp, which are:

  • having no damp proof course
  • having a damp proof course which is no longer doing its job.

If you’re lucky enough to have never needed to know what a damp proof course is, it’s a waterproof layer in the wall near the ground which should keep water at bay.

As in many fields of life, the sooner you notice and deal with the problem, the lower the costs of fixing it will probably be. Contact an expert who will be able to conduct a survey. If rising damp is indeed diagnosed and the cause isn’t the presence of some bridging material which can be removed easily, a range of professional treatments will be considered.

Of course, condensation and rising/penetrating damp aren’t the only ways in which water can damage your property. Also see our  advice on protecting your property against flooding here .

The landlord’s responsibilities for dealing with damp

As you might expect, the type of damp has a crucial bearing on the issue of responsibility. However, it is not the only thing to consider.

Landlords are obliged to keep their rental properties in repair. So if in the case of rising damp, the damp proof course has failed, the landlord is likely to be obliged to have it fixed. On the other hand, if there never was one, the landlord may not be legally responsible (although legal advice should be sought as it could depend on the individual situation).

On the other hand, if the damp problem is so severe that it impacts on health and safety, the local authority could force you as a landlord to deal with it.

So overall, there is no simple answer to the question of whether the landlord is legally responsible for dealing with damp problems. For this reason, it makes sense where possible to try to deal with the issue amicably, based on communicating with the tenant in good faith.

The tenant’s obligations

The tenant is obliged to heat the property adequately and keep the building well ventilated (to the extent that both of these are within their power), in order to reduce the risk of damp building up through condensation.

In most cases, tenants also have an obligation to allow you access to the property where reasonable notice has been given. As you’d expect, this applies to the landlord’s effort to deal with maintenance issues such as dealing with a damp problem.

Damp, mould and condensation can be challenging to deal with, both in terms of the practicalities of getting rid of it and the tenant-landlord issues that can arise. Unsurprisingly it helps to have a sound relationship with your tenant from the beginning. Read our article  on how to build a stronger relationship that profits both parties .

Damp isn’t the only issue that responsible landlords need to keep in mind. Obtain  comprehensive landlord insurance  to cover your property investment.

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