Information about mould and mould disease
Mould is fast becoming a serious problem for home residents due to the potential and often serious health problems caused by exposure to mould spores and mould mycotoxins.
From the legal point of view we need to consider three situations in which mould can occur. Mould in private property, mould in commercial setting and mould in a rental property.
Privately owned property:
The first case you are unfortunately on your own as you are fully responsible for maintaining of your own property and therefore all responsibility in regards to mould falls on to you. Unless you are occupying a newly constructed property which has not been build in accordance with the building regulations. In this case the seller of the property, often a big construction company, can be held liable.
Commercial property or workplace:
In relation to commercial /industrial environment all employers, self- employed and employees have certain duties and responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Mould is characterised in a hazardous substance and is regulated by the The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended).
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) (as amended), employers and the self-employed are required to make an assessment of the risk to health from the work activity, to introduce and maintain control measures and to inform, instruct and train employees about the risk and precautions to be taken.
If the risk assessment shows that there is a substantial risk from mould, actions needs to be taken to minimise this risk as far as reasonably practicable.
If you employ people who are regularly exposed to mould, COSHH would normally require that you ask if they have any symptoms of respiratory illness and that you make sure you know the reason for any absence from work. If employees suffer from respiratory illness you will need to prevent further exposure by changing work methods or otherwise improving control measures.
In relation to rental properties the problem is most complicated. The landlords have duties to provide good living condition for tenants but on the other hand the tenants also have responsibilities to maintain the properties in good standard and conditions.
Mould in the property can be cause due to defects in the property itself in which case the responsibility falls on the landlords. However, by far the most common cause of mould growth is condensation. The true cause of condensation-based mould growth is often complex and a combination of things. It is sometimes caused by inadequacies in the building but very often the main cause of mould growth is the lifestyle of the occupants – the tenants. UK legal cases so far have been much smaller in number but the ones that have been brought have seldom been straightforward and liability has just as often fallen on the occupants (tenants) as it has on the owners (landlords).
In Birmingham District Council v. Kelly 17 HLR 572 the Divisional Court accepted that a statutory nuisance could exist even if there was no breach of building regulations or other statutory requirements. There each of the flats was found to be seriously affected by mould growth. The Court accepted that mould growth, because of inadequate heating, could constitute a statutory nuisance though it referred to Dover District Council v. Farrar  2HLR 32 where a claim failed because the tenant did not make adequate use of the heating system so as to prevent condensation which caused the mould.
A couple with four children living in the Merseyside area had moved into their flat in September 2006. They were already tenants of the landlord but as their last property was in such bad disrepair the landlord agreed to move them to another of his many properties. This property was extremely cold and damp with a black mould deposit coating the ceilings and walls. The windows were in severe disrepair and didn’t close properly and there were structural defects to the living room walls. Since the boiler had broken down they were without heat or hot water over the winter months and relied on one Calor gas heater, which was having an adverse affect on the damp. The 14 year old child slept on the sofa as the bedroom was covered in mould. His brother aged six had severe asthma which was aggravated by the living conditions
The landlord had refused to put things right, despite numerous requests. The client therefore sought help from the Environmental Health Department. However the landlord then retaliated by serving the client with a Section 21 Notice. This family had to be re-housed by the local authority under their homelessness duty. (case from www.citizensadvice.org.uk/tenants_dilema_-_document.pdf )
A CAB in Cornwall reported an elderly couple with long term health problems who had repeatedly told their landlord about problems with persistent mould growth on the walls. He supplied a dehumidifier and advised the clients to use a strong bleach solution on a fortnightly basis. The client was fed up with having to do this and was also concerned that the bleach could be affecting his wife’s health. They would like to insist on proper action being taken but fear that the landlord would serve notice if they did. (case from www.citizensadvice.org.uk/tenants_dilema_-_document.pdf )
A CAB in Yorkshire reported a couple with an 18 month old baby who had moved into their private rented three bedroom property two years previously. The house was in serious disrepair: windows were cracked, one bedroom and the bathroom windows were boarded up and a shower had been installed in the main bedroom with no associated ventilation. The immersion heater had wiring hanging off the wall, secured insufficiently with black tape and the gas fire in the living room had been condemned by a gas engineer. The landlord replaced the gas fire with a two bar electric heater but their home was still cold. As the bathroom was unusable the baby was bathed in kitchen sink, which was increasingly unsuitable as the child grew. The family were living in conditions which were a health risk, especially for the baby. However, they were concerned that if they sought the help of the Environmental Health Department they ran the risk of eviction. (case from www.citizensadvice.org.uk/tenants_dilema_-_document.pdf )
A CAB in Hertfordshire reported a client whose landlord served a Section 21 Notice two days after she complained about damp. He also told the client she would not get back her £1,000 deposit unless she rectified the damp problem. (case from www.citizensadvice.org.uk/tenants_dilema_-_document.pdf )
Repairs & Maintenance- Section 11, Landlord and Tenant Act 1985:
The landlord is responsible for the structure and exterior of the property; baths, sinks and other sanitary items; heating and hot water installations. However, this only applies if the tenant has a fixed tenancy contract for less than 7 years; else these issues become the tenant’s responsibility. The landlord is not responsible for damages caused by the tenants.
This legislation requires landlords to:
Section 10 Fitness for Habitation Act, states:
In determining for purposes of this Act whether a house is unfit for human habitation, regard shall be had to its condition in respect of the following matter;
and the house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.
For a dwelling to be considered ‘decent’ it must: