Mould in rental properties: What are my responsibilities?

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If the dreaded black spores are invading your rental property, you want to deal with them quick-smart.

Mould CleaningBut just who is responsible for removing mould?

It starts as one little spore, then two… and, before you know it, there is a horrible black fungus spreading, well, like mushrooms.

Like all fungi, mould grows best in damp, poorly ventilated areas with limited or no sunlight, and reproduces by making spores.

Unsightly and unhealthy, mould is not something you want to find in your rental.

And if you find the black spores making an appearance, you will want to deal with the root cause and get rid of it quickly and effectively.

So what is mould?

Mould and mildew are living organisms known as fungi.

Mould thrives on moisture and can grow in homes when conditions are damp, dark and poorly ventilated.

Common places for mould include bathrooms, kitchens, cluttered storage areas, wall and roof spaces, under carpets, in ventilation/air-conditioner ducts or behind furniture.

Mould can spread from one surface to another by contact or it can be air-borne.

How do I know there is mould in my rental property?

Often it is obvious that mould is present.

Mould has a musty odour and presents as green, grey, brown or black spots and clusters.

You can usually spot the most visible type of mould, called mildew, which begins as tiny, usually black spots but often grows into larger colonies.

It’s the black stuff you see in the grout lines in your shower, on damp walls, and outdoors on the surfaces of decking boards and painted siding, especially in damp and shady areas.

Mould vs dirt. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish whether a surface has mould spores, or if it’s just dirty.

To test for mould and mildew, put a few drops of household bleach on the blackened area.

If it lightens after one to two minutes, you have mildew.

If the area remains dark, you probably have dirt.

And it is a problem because?

Mould HazardMore than being unsightly, mould can cause serious problems.

When it dries out or is disturbed, mould releases spores which can cause illness in some people or exacerbate existing health issues like asthma, respiratory infections, skin irritations or itchy eyes.

Mould can also cause odours and damage to building materials, contents and structures.

If left untreated, it can grow into plaster, ceiling cavities, behind walls, in and behind gyprock and under carpets and floorboards – potentially causing structural damage.

Heads up: If the mould gets to the point where it is posing risks and the rental becomes uninhabitable, it is often grounds to terminate the lease agreement.

Who’s responsible for getting rid of it?

The answer depends on what is causing the mould to grow in the first place.

The cause of mould and mildew in a rental could stem from maintenance issues or from the action or inaction of tenants – which means fixing the problem could rest with either you or your tenant.

It is your problem if…

…the outbreak is caused by structural issues or stems from a lack of maintenance or repair such as:

  • a leak in the roof
  • a faulty pipe
  • malfunctioning gutters causing overflow into the property
  • surface water leaking into the building
  • wet building foundations such as rising damp
  • indoor plumbing leaks
  • unrepaired exhaust fans or wall-mounted heating/cooling units
  • flood damage

RepairAs a landlord, you are required to keep the property in a reasonable state of repair, meet building, health and safety requirements, and ensure all repairs are undertaken within a reasonable timeframe.

If you do not want to risk breaching the tenancy agreement, make sure you keep on top of maintenance and repairs.

During inspections be sure you or your agent keep an eye out for potential repair or structural problems (see list above).

But as mould can be caused by non-structural issues, if you or your agent spot a mould problem caused by your tenant’s actions, be sure to let them know.

If the issue is something you can help with, such as installing exhaust fans, then look to do this – it is a good way to safeguard your property.

You should also encourage tenants to let you, or your agent, know if there are any issues with the property causing mould to form, like dampness, windows not closing properly or leaks.

This gives you a chance to nip it in the spore before it grows into a much bigger problem.

Heads up: A tenant may be able to seek compensation from you if mould damages their personal property and you have failed to take reasonable steps.

It is your tenant’s problem if…

…the mould has formed because of their actions or inaction.

Tenants are responsible for keeping the rental property in a reasonable state of cleanliness, not intentionally or negligently causing or permitting damage, and informing the landlord or agent of any damage as soon as possible.

Tenants RepairingYour tenant could be responsible for cleaning up outbreaks if their actions resulted in mould forming. For example:

  • by showering without switching on the exhaust fan or opening a window
  • leaving pools of water on tiles
  • cooking without turning on the extractor fan
  • using a drier without ventilation or drying clothes indoors and not airing the room afterwards
  • failing to properly clean up indoor liquid spills
  • getting the carpet wet and neglecting to properly dry it out
  • not cleaning the home properly

Heads up: If the tenant has caused the underlying problem that led to mould developing or hasn’t informed you or your agent of an issue with the property, they could be held responsible for mould damage and may have to compensate you.

So how do I get rid of mould?

Mould is unlikely to die out on its own – you need to have it cleaned away.

If the mould is widespread (over one square metre) or identified within structures, a specialist cleaner will need to be engaged to sort out the problem.

You or your tenant should only attempt to clean up minor outbreaks of surface mould, for example, if it is in a cupboard or wardrobe or a small patch on a wall or on bathroom tiles.

If you want to try to remove the mould without calling in the experts, visit the Health Department website, as most states have guidelines available. Spraying At Mould

Mould can be removed using several products including bleach (only effective for surface mould), borax, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, detergent, baking soda, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, oil of cloves (though any essential oils may stain), anti-bacterial sprays that contain 60 per cent alcohol, anti-bacterial wipes treated with a disinfectant or white vinegar (one of the cheapest, safest and most effective cleaners).

Be sure to wear protective gear like gloves, a face mask and safety glasses/goggles.

Super-porous materials like clothing, bedding or other soft fabric articles like soft toys should be washed on a hot cycle.

Remember you have a duty of care when it comes to the health and safety of your tenants.

Breach that duty and you could be liable for their injuries or losses.

Be sure you or your agent do not ask tenants to undertake any cleaning that could pose health or safety risks, for example, that requires the use of a ladder or harsh chemicals (such as bleach).

This cleaning should be contracted out to professionals who are licensed/certified and insured.

Is it insured?

In a word… no.

No InsuranceDamage caused by mould/mildew/fungus/algae is a standard exclusion in most building and contents policies in Australia.

This means that if there is an outbreak at the rental, neither landlord nor tenant is likely to be able to claim on their insurance for any damage.

Why? Because mould growth is frequently unavoidable and it usually doesn’t cause damage if it is taken care of quickly (e.g. damage is preventable), it is not usually covered by insurance.

Insurance is designed to cover unexpected events, not compensate for neglect or the inevitable.

So, whoever is responsible for the presence of mould at the rental is responsible for the cost for cleaning, repair or replacement.

Reduce the risk of your investment property becoming a home for mould by keeping on top of maintenance, repairs, cleaning and ventilation.

Guest Author: This article was written by the team at EBM RentCover and was originally published here.  EBM RentCover is one of Australia’s leading landlord insurance providers, protecting more than 150,000 rental properties across Australia.

ALSO READ: We’re experiencing the highest growth in rents since July 2008

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