Damp’s a nasty thing. Looks awful, can smell bad and if you’ve got mould, little spores can get into your airways causing anything from a mild irritation to death. So you need to take it seriously.
Most rented properties suffer from damp at some point and there are different types, caused by different things. Sometimes it’ll be your landlord’s fault for not maintaining the property well enough; sometimes it’s simply been buried deep within the property and they genuinely didn’t know there was a problem, and sometimes it’s your own fault.
The damp you’re least likely to come across is rising damp, which is caused by ground water soaking up through the floor or the bottom of walls. It should be picked up during the survey at the time the landlord buys the property and put right through the installation of a damp-proof membrane or damp-proof course.
Because rising damp only affects the bottom part of a property, if you’re renting a flat or maisonette that’s not on the ground floor and you see damp, it’s probably penetrating damp. If you’ve got damp patches on the wall, it’s likely to be rain water coming in through the brickwork. If it’s on the ceiling, that could be from an internal leak, e.g. a water tank or badly-sealed bathroom fitting, or there might be an issue with the roof. Damp around the windows indicates they haven’t been sealed properly or the seal has degraded over time.
If you see a white residue on the outside of the property, that’s where salts in the rainwater have been left behind when the water itself evaporates (efflorescence):
Again, penetrating damp should have picked up on the survey at the point of purchase but, if your landlord has owned the property for several years, it might have just developed over time.
If you spot any signs of rising or penetrating damp, report it to the landlord or agent right away, as they’ll need to get contractors in to put the problem right.
The most common type of damp is condensation and it’s rare to find a rented property without it! When there’s a big difference between the inside and outside temperatures, condensation forms as water on windows. If you don’t wipe it off, it’ll run down the window and can lie in pools on the sills and at the edge of the flooring.
In rooms where moisture is generated – that’s most likely to be the bathroom, kitchen and anywhere you dry washing inside – it’ll settle on any surface if it can’t escape. And unless you wipe it off, it’ll develop into black spots (mildew) and then grow and spread as mould.
If there isn’t a window or working extractor fan in the room, or the heating doesn’t work effectively, that’s down to the landlord and they should be putting things right to ensure you have a decent standard of accommodation. But, generally speaking, if you’ve got surface mould, it’s likely to be your fault for not ventilating properly.
In the majority of cases, mould is found growing above the shower and in the corners of bedrooms simply because tenants aren’t opening windows to let steam and other moisture out. And you’ve got to get rid of mould because it will spread and can damage furniture and belongings, cause mite infestations and could result in serious health problems. Inhaling or touching mould spores can cause allergic reactions, asthma attacks, respiratory infections and even affect your immune system. Particularly at risk are babies and children, the elderly and those with existing skin or respiratory problems.
So here are 5 top tips for avoiding condensation & surface mould:
- Open windows and/or switch on extractors when cooking in the kitchen, using the bathroom and drying washing.
- Wipe off condensation on windows.
- Open your bedroom window for 15 minutes each morning.
- Keep the inside temperature as constant as possible.
- Don’t push furniture up against walls, where moisture can get trapped.
Bonus tip: get yourself some anti-mould spray and use it to clean off any surface mould and reduce the chance of it forming again.
See Shelter’s advice on dealing with damp and mould in rented homes: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/repairs/damp_and_mould_in_rented_homes
Image credit: Andrew Moore