Mould, Condensation, And Damp – A Quick Overview

Questions regarding the effects and causes of mould, condensation, and damp are some of the most commonly asked of inventory clerks. Here, then, is a quick guide to the topic, as well as answers to some of the issues most frequently raised.

What causes damp?

Landlords will often claim damages from a tenant when damp is discovered at the end of a tenancy. In many cases it is true that moisture damage has occurred during the tenancy but before any decision is made regarding its cause, a number of factors must be taken into account.

Often, in fact, using the word ‘damp’ reflects a lack of knowledge about building maintenance. No tenant could be held responsible, for instance, in a case where penetrating damp was caused by faulty gutters or down pipes, unless the problem was apparent and the tenant failed to report it to the landlord or agent.

Evidence of damp is usually caused by surface condensation. Remember that the air around us is never completely dry and holds moisture that is invisible. Bathing, cooking, washing, drying, and even breathing will further increase the moisture content of the air in a property. Steam from a boiling kettle disappears, for instance, but its moisture is absorbed by the air. The warmer a property’s air, the higher the amount of moisture it is able to absorb before it becomes saturated. Whenever the temperature of saturated air falls, condensation occurs.

Condensation will form on the colder surfaces in a property. The majority of deposit dispute claims tend to be for redecoration in bathrooms and kitchens or for window reveals, high level corners between ceilings and walls, and behind furniture. Over time, as oxygen mixes with this moisture, the presence of mould spores and a suitable temperature leads to grey/green, black, or brown layers that form the basis of most claims.

What to do when damp is discovered

When a problem with condensation or damp has been identified in a property, here are some points to consider.

The age of the property: Older properties that don’t provide fixed volume ventilation and that have had replacement PVCU sealed unit double glazing fitted may suffer more than other properties from problems associated with damp. This is because they have been almost ‘sealed up’, making it easy for condensation to form. More modern window replacements usually come with trickle vents to increase air flow.

The structure of the property: Another commom type of condensation is interstitial condensation. This happens when the building contains porous building materials or has voids or cavities. These contain air and will be humid. As temperatures fluctuate, condensation will form and damp patches can appear and disappear on walls and ceilings.

Properties with flat roofs or extensions are particularly prone to condensation. Where roofs are covered with asphalt or bituminous felt, or if a roofing’s seals are both watertight on their top surface and vapour tight on the underside, they won’t breathe and any warm air permeating rising from below will condense and create damp patches.

The position of the property: When a property is at ground or first floor level, security reasons may prevent a tenant leaving windows open during the day while at work or at night when they are sleeping. In some cases, household insurance may explicitly prohibit windows being left open.

What to look for when the landlord makes a claim

Condensation will form in any property if the right conditions exist. When claim is made against a tenant, therefore, the inventory clerk needs to be able to determine whether the problem was exaggerated by the way the tenant occupied the property.

Is it reasonable to expect the tenant to provide constant ventilation? As noted above, the position of the building is relevant to whether opening windows is practical. Bear in mind also that, in addition to insurances, the tenancy agreement itself may expressly forbid the tenant from leaving windows open during the day, when out, or in the evenings when asleep. Some agreements may even a clause relatiing directly to condensation.

Inventory clerks don’t have sight of the tenancy agreement so it useful to ask the agent or landlord claiming damages if these clauses exist.

Is there any kind of fixed volume ventilation? Landlords may leave de-humidifiers for the use of the tenant. The tenant may or may not decide to use them, as they can be expensive to run. If they have not been used and a damp problem has possibly occurred as a result, it’s important to reference the tenancy agreement to see whether the use of a de-humidifier or similar device was stipulated.

Is there any kind of forced extraction in bathrooms and kitchens? This refers to things like extractor fans and, in some cases, air vents in walls. If an extractor fan breaks during the tenancy, the tenant is obliged to report this to the landlord or agent. Although the tenant is not responsible for repairs, if the problem is not reported in reasonable time, they may become responsible for any damage that occurs because the extractor was not working for a longer period than necessary.

Has the property suffered from the problem previously? After visiting a property repeatedly over a number of years, a clerk may become aware that there is an inherent problem in the property. It’s often the case that landlords will simply paint over or redecorate affected areas, only for the problem to reappear during the next tenancy. As clerks it is important we remain independent, so if there are no obvious signs of damp at check-in, we should not raise the issue with the tenant. However, when doing our check out reports, we have a duty to bear in mind the past history of the property.

When a claim relates to a previous problem, the tenancy history and the conduct of the tenant must both be considered. Did the tenant report the problem or was the issue identified during a routine inspection? Examples of the latter might include the agent seeing evidence of washing being dried in unventilated rooms, which would support any claim that a tenant was not taking adequate care to ventilate the property.

Has the tenant’s lifestyle contributed to the problem? It is often extremely hard for an inventory clerk to establish evidence of a single cause for a damp problem. By the time we see a property, the tenant will have cleared their personal effects and belongings away. It is not our job to try to guess how the tenant was living in the property or to take notice of information from the landlord or agent regarding the way the tenant was living in the property. As clerks, we need to remain as neutral as possible. Unless we see evidence first hand or the source of the problem is obvious, we should never speculate on why damp has arisen. Our job is simply to report the facts.