Mould: Condensation v Damp

A conversation with a client last week made me realise just how many deposit protection disputes are over the cost of repairing mould. As an adjudicator, I would dread claims relating to mould, not just because the pictures of black and green slime colonising walls would make my skin crawl, but because they always came down to the same argument, and sometimes it was very difficult to know who was right.

The landlord’s case was always that the tenant did the laundry, dried their washing, bathed and cooked without properly ventilating the property. This, they argue, caused excessive condensation to build up on the windows and in the corners, and it is in these moist areas that the mould began to grow.
The tenant’s case, without exception, was that the cause was damp. They would usually point to a problem with the building, such as gutters blocked or broken, render cracked or roof in need of repair. This, they argued, was the cause of the moisture, and the mould.
Disputes relating to mould are notoriously difficult to prove and tend to be over quite significant sums of money. When it really takes hold, there is a lot of work to be done, drying out the property and redecorating the damaged areas, and the bills can soon be up to and over the value of the deposit. All the more reason to make sure your claim has the best possible chance of success.
So what can you do to maximise your chances of success. You need an inventory for starters. If you aren’t getting a professional inventory for every tenancy, you are asking for trouble. 
If you suspect that there is a condensation problem building up, you need to conduct an interim inspection. You are entitled to do this. Best to ask your inventory company to do it for you. Give the tenant plenty of notice in writing and give the inventory agent a pass key. They will produce a report, hopefully with corresponding evidence showing the condition of the property. If there are early signs of a problem, write to the tenant explaining what you have seen, what the likely outcome might be and what you think they should do about it. Specify a date for a follow up inspection.
At the end of the tenancy, you should be offering your tenant some kind of check-out meeting as a minimum, where you go through the inventory and discuss any damage. Your inventory agent will be happy to do this for you. If there is mould at the check-out meeting, note it on the report and get some images or video of it. Make sure you get evidence that shows the cause was condensation, rather than damp. Show the mould forming above the bath, or the river marks around the windows from the water drops running down the wall.
If the tenant really wants to make it difficult, commission a report from an expert, but beware; I can recall had a case where each side had an expert’s report backing them up. Now that one really gave me a headache…

Leave a Reply