The damage that mould can cause, both to a property and the health of the inhabitants, can be costly. The question is, whose responsibility is it?
It is a proven fact that the presence of mould in a home can be harmful to our health. If we ingest, inhale or come into direct contact with mould spores or particles, we can experience new health issues or exacerbate existing ones, such as respiratory illnesses like asthma.
According to the Director of the Centre of Excellence in Heathy Housing, Rebecca Bentley, as many as one million Australians live in housing that harms their health and renters are the ones who are suffering the most. She said some of the health-harming problems found in homes include damp and mould, which could affect up to a quarter of housing stock in Australia.
A general practitioner told the ABC recently about a 30-year-old patient who was well until they moved into their rental five years ago. They are now on medication for chronic persistent asthma because of the severe mould problem within the property. The GP went on to say that this was not a one-off occurrence as she had seen several patients with chronic asthma living with mould in their homes and that “it’s an illness that can change your life”.
A single mother renting a property in Sydney with her 6-year-old daughter told the ABC that the house had always had issues with damp, which became worse after bad storms hit the city in February. The tenant, who has a mould allergy, said it was April before somebody came out to inspect it. Demonstrating her concern of being evicted if she complained, a fear unfortunately shared by many renters, she said, “I’ve heard of lots of tenants who’ve been, I guess, cast as a troublesome tenant and so once they raise all the issues, they’re evicted. I don’t want to cause too much trouble because it’s such an effort to get anything fixed”.
It’s not just the health of inhabitants that suffers. Mould can also cause damage to a building and its contents if left untreated. This can lead to costly maintenance and repair work as well as increased management costs for things like professional cleaning. This means the presence of mould can create a vicious cycle whereby a structural defect may cause mould to grow and this in turn exacerbates structural damage.
Who is responsible when it comes to mould?
Governments around the country have a duty of care to improve minimum standards for housing and improving building codes and this is happening around the nation with the residential rental reforms, albeit slowly.
Mould caused by structural issues, such as a leak in the roof, malfunctioning gutters and inadequate ventilation will typically be the responsibility of the landlord to address.
The tenant is responsible if their actions and activities create the perfect environment for mould to grow. This includes things like tumble dryer use, hot showers and cooking without opening a window or switching on the exhaust fan if there is one as well as failing to mop or wipe up condensation on surfaces and storing water-soluble materials such as books, soft furnishings and boxes in a dark, damp space.
Given a landlord is required by law to keep their rental property in a reasonable state of repair, adhere to health and safety standards and ensure all repairs and maintenance are undertaken within a reasonable timeframe, this includes issues relating to mould due to the associated health risks.
As you can see, the laws around who is responsible for the mould are not black and white. However, if you are a landlord, you have a duty of care to ensure your property is safe for tenants, and this includes doing everything reasonable to prevent the growth of mould due to structural issues.
If a tenant fails to report mould build-up or fails to report an issue that has led to the mould build up to their property manager, then they would be held liable.
Speak to your property manager if you have any concerns about mould in your investment property.