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Landlords, property managers and inventory professionals need to understand mould toxicity and the effect it can have on their investment and those living within their property.

With increasing emphasis being placed on regulating and legislating against this often toxic substance, a series of news stories and amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill means landlords cannot overlook this red-hot topic if they’re to continue to meet best practice guidelines.

This article will cover what mould is, the legal repercussions, how to identify mould and damp in a property, as well as the signs of mould toxicity and how to eliminate mould.

What is mould and how is it toxic?

Black toxic mould is probably the most recognised variety in a property and can appear as black or dark green spots on floors and walls. According to experts, it appears following conditions of moisture, oxygen, temperatures between 4.4-38 degrees Celsius and paper or drywalls.

Found in damp areas of the home such as windows, showers and walls, particularly during the winter months, mould can multiply rapidly within a property. Deemed toxic, this fungus has spores which are released into the atmosphere, which are then inhaled, swallowed or transferred via the skin. They can be brought inside on clothing or other means, meaning your property is always susceptible.

Health issues for your tenants can arise from this exposure, with mould often described using three categories. These are allergenic moulds, pathogenic moulds and toxic moulds, the third of which creates hazardous mycotoxins or harmful chemicals that can, in worse-case situations, cause long-term illnesses or aggravate mould allergies, respiratory conditions such as asthma, or affect those with a weakened immune system.

With several tragic news stories affecting the property landscape in recent years, the issue of preventing and treating mould toxicity is now a legal responsibility, rather than merely an ethical one.

What are the legal repercussions of mould?

If you let, manage or compile inventories for properties, it’s vital to be vigilant for mould to prevent the financial and legal implications seen in a number of recent cases.

In June 2023, the Daily Mail reported how Eastbourne Borough Council was ordered to compensate a tenant £2,500 in damages and complete necessary repairs to her downstairs toilet, after failing to address the considerable mould that had built up in the room over a three-year period.

At a total cost of £3,000, this high-profile case covered in several publications reinforces the need for property professionals and landlords to address mould before it becomes a serious problem. The sum initially invested in preventing and treating black mould can save costly legal repercussions and bring peace of mind to landlords.

The sad case of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy whose death was caused by the damp and mould in his home, which was managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, is another tragic example of mould and damp’s side effects.

Named in his memory, Awaab’s Law will reflect amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill whereby social housing landlords are to investigate and fix damp and mould in their properties within stricter time limits. Awaab’s Law is currently in the final stages of becoming legislation and should receive Royal Assent to come into force this year.

This amendment to social housing laws accompanies the UK Government’s new announcement that social housing managers must obtain a professional qualification, which we discussed alongside criticism of these changes from the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group (RoPA).

Whilst the legislation will not affect the private rented sector (PRS), Alice Kennedy the Director of Generation Rent, is calling for this to be applied there too. She says “The government needs to take the issue of mould and damp in privately rented homes far more seriously”.

For landlords and property professionals outside of the social housing sector, it’s worth bearing in mind that similar legislation could be introduced to govern the PRS at a later date.

How to identify mould and damp in your home

Landlords should be on the lookout for signs of mould. Potentially damaging the floors and walls of their properties, The English Housing Survey 2021-22 identified damp in 11% of PRS buildings, highlighting the need to manage mould and damp from its onset.

Checks for these two substances can be carried out by agents or inventory professionals whilst they create their inventory reports in between tenancies. Landlords should then take the opportunity to look out for the key signs of mould and dampness during their regular property inspections, once the tenants are living in the property.

Inspect walls and floors, around windows and in all bathroom spaces as these naturally damp areas of a property can harbour the telltale signs of mould (black and other coloured spores). Be alert to musty odours and rotten smells which may be a result of chemicals such as volatile organic compounds as outlined in Fitness for Human Habitation and Housing Health and Safety Rating guidelines.

Stained or pungent carpets can also suggest that the property has mould and damp issues. Peeling bubbled paint or warped wallpaper could also be evidence of these concerns, so it’s worth checking the state of the decoration during each inspection. Bathrooms can reveal mildew and mould on their tiles and dark grout, just as their extractor fans can harbour spots of black mould and require frequent cleaning.

The 5 signs of mould toxicity

Not only do properties give away distinctive signs of mould and dampness. They can also cause a number of health complaints for the people living there. Sometimes referred to as ‘sick building syndrome’, there are 5 key signs that suggest your property needs to be treated for mould. Otherwise, you could find a high turnover of tenants, if not legal action.

One sign is feeling tired for no reason all of the time. Fatigue can happen to those occupying a property as a result of toxic mould. Not everyone in the same home will experience this symptom but it can significantly impact tenants’ energy levels.

Other signs of mould toxicity are hayfever-like symptoms or prolonged allergies that refuse to subside. This can affect people who’re exposed to mould as well as those with or without pre-existing allergies, who find that their eyes sting and water after prolonged time spent in the property.

Similarly, a congested or runny nose, sneezing, coughs and colds can be brought on by a rental home that has mould. As with the last sign (allergy-like symptoms), these will worsen if tenants spend long amounts of time there, such as remote workers spending all day in their rented property.

The next sign is often overlooked, but tingling or uncomfortable skin can be another sign of mould toxicity. Spread via clothing and onto skin, tenants who develop an allergy to the mycotoxins found in black mould will find that their body is reacting to its release of histamines in the form of burning sensations.

Asthma can also flare up more severely in homes with mould and damp surfaces. Spores can find their way into the resident’s lungs to irritate and inflame. There are rare but acute cases of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis being triggered by mould toxicity.

How to eliminate mould from your property

As prevention is better and more financially viable than the cure, Inventory Base has addressed the removal of mould in a number of blog posts.

Our guide How to Prevent Mould and Damp outlines the best tactics for tackling these pesky situations. Also, consider equipping your tenants with the information they need to prevent mould by sharing our Advice for Tenants About Mould article.

Should mould spores appear, three quick tips for treating mould, which are covered in more depth in our Winter Mould article, are as follows:

1. Open windows regularly: Allow air to circulate especially in damp areas like kitchens and bathrooms.

2. Consider a dehumidifier: In rooms with limited airflow or stubborn mould infestations, a dehumidifier help remove excess moisture.

3. Choose anti-mould paint: Once the mould has bene removed apply paint to treat existing mould and prevent future growth.

Stay on top of mould and damp with Inventory Base

It’s always the smart choice to stop mould and damp spreading throughout the structure of a property to ensure the longevity of your investment.

Using the Inventory Base inspection app to log the signs of mould during each property inspection could help avoid the legal and financial consequences of mould toxicity and property damage.

By proactively monitoring the signs and taking steps to eliminate mould growth, you’ll stay on the right side of compliance and keep your tenants safe and happy.

Find out more by booking a demo.