Mould: who’s to blame?

Mould an insidious problem, especially as we move into the winter months. It generally grows in damp, dark spaces, and the damper a space gets, and stays, the more likely mould is to grow there. If you’re involved with a rental property, either as a tenant or a landlord, and mould becomes a problem, whose responsibility is it to clean it up and take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again? The answer is: it depends.

Mould is often the result of maintenance problems, whether those issues are structural or the result of how the property is being used: the former are the responsibility of the landlord, and the latter are the responsibility of the tenants. If the mould is the result of building-related or property issues, such as leaking pipes, inadequate ventilation or plumbing problems, it falls to the landlord to remedy any resulting issues. Also, if the mould results from structural problems (such as a draughty house, poorly sealed wet areas etc.), it will also most likely fall to the landlord to fix the mould and any related damage. Generally, these are treated as non-emergency repairs.

If, however, the mould has resulted because of how tenants are using the property, such as not using kitchen, laundry and bathroom ventilation when necessary, it falls to the tenants to fix it. This also means situations where items and/or furniture, such as cardboard boxes, bookcases, bedside tables etc. have been left against walls and have caused mould to grow, it is most likely the tenant’s responsibility to rectify the problem.

While mould isn’t difficult to clean up (there are plenty of options in your local supermarket), it is important that care is taken not to further damage the property while cleaning it. Many mould removers contain bleach, which means they’ll bleach (and therefore permanently mark) any soft furnishings they come in contact with such as carpets and other fabrics. They may also damage painted areas, if they’re used on or near them, as will harsh scrubbing. There are gentler solutions (such as using distilled vinegar), but they may not be enough if the mould has taken a grip. Also, while cleaning the surface might temporarily fix the problem, if other steps aren’t taken to prevent the mould from growing again, it will likely be an ongoing issue.

Of course, sometimes it can become complicated. If the plumbing has developed a slow leak, and the tenant has failed to notify the landlord, then the tenant must assume some responsibility for the damage that their failure to report the leak has caused. Alternatively, if during a property inspection the real estate representative notices a potential problem, they should be proactive in asking and checking if it’s something that requires maintenance, or organise for regular maintenance for problem areas (such as clogged gutters if there are large trees near the property). This will reduce the likelihood of drainage and dampness issues in the future.

In short, so long as landlords and tenants are proactive in assessing, removing and trying to prevent mould, hopefully it won’t become a matter for dispute. While it might seem excessive to undertake preventative maintenance for mould, especially as a landlord, it is a problem that is best solved as quickly as possible. After all, it’s worth being on top of any problem involving water being or going where it shouldn’t be, as if it gets out of hand, it’s possible that the mould will be the least of your problems.