New government guidance now holds private sector landlords accountable for damp and mould in rental properties much like housing associations and councils. Landlords who ignore damp and mould issues could face unlimited penalties.

The issues of damp and mould in rented property gained momentum following the tragic death in 2020 of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old, whose death was caused by health complications from damp and mould in his council house.

Housing minister Michael Gove stressed that landlords should not blame tenants for damp and mould problems. The minister stated “Damp and mould in the home are not the result of ‘lifestyle choices’, and it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address the underlying causes of the problem, such as structural issues or inadequate ventilation”.

The guidance was not only issued by Gove’s own government department but also by the Department of Health and Social Care and the UK Health Security Agency. Landlords are urged to become familiar with legislation, be proactive in property management, and respond promptly to tenant complaints.

The guidance details 4 main legal standards on damp and mould in privately rented property:

  • All homes must be free from ‘category 1’ hazards, including mould and all forms of dampness, as per the Housing Act 2004. These are hazards that might require someone to seek medical attention within a year. It estimates that roughly 1 in 30 of PRS properties contain a category 1 damp and mould hazard.
  • The Environmental Protection Act 1990 empowers tenants and local councils to take legal action if homes contain conditions prejudicial to health. This includes circumstances where damp and mould can be harmful or constitute a nuisance.
  • The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, updated by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, stipulates that properties should be free from serious hazards. The condition of the property, combined with the needs of the current occupier, will determine its suitability. If landlords neglect repairs or the home becomes unfit for habitation, tenants can take legal action under specific circumstances.
  • Privately rented homes must meet the Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency standard as per the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015. While these regulations don’t explicitly refer to damp and mould, an energy-efficient property, if well-ventilated, is less prone to damp-related issues.

Two critical components from the Renters (Reform) Bill will oversee landlords’ management of damp and mould:

  • The Housing Ombudsman will handle tenant complaints if landlords fail to address issues.
  • The Property Portal will record landlords’ adherence to the Decent Homes Standards and other regulations.

Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme (PRS), emphasised that the focus is on landlords to identify and address any problems. He stated “It is no longer acceptable to blame issues on the way tenants live and normal life such as cooking, washing and drying of laundry have to continue.”

“Instead, landlords and their agents must be sensitive to the needs of tenants and work with them to understand and change behaviour where appropriate. “

“They should also thoroughly investigate the underlying causes behind the problems and follow up to ensure things have improved.”

“We at the PRS will be using this guide to hold agents to account and urge the Government to introduce redress for landlord managed properties as soon as possible to proceed a holistic approach across every rented home.”