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Damp Damage – Who is responsible?

Tim Williamson
Tim Williamson

Damp issues are always a problem for landlords, even where tenants are at fault.

There is a rising number of Tribunal decisions in Scotland involving tenants withholding rent under the repairing standards legislation, or landlords raising rent arrears actions due to damp disputes.

This article looks at the main causes of damp and remedies open to landlords in Scotland.

HOW DOES DAMP HAPPEN?

There are three common forms of damp: Rising Damp, Penetrating Damp, and Condensation Damp. 

A fourth is damp caused by a water leak internally, such as a persistent leak from a water pipe, water tank, appliance or fitting in the rented property. 

Rising damp and penetrating damp are usually a landlord’s responsibility as they are structural issues.  Both increase humidity levels in the home, resulting in condensation damp. 

Landlords tend to consider condensation damp as a tenant lifestyle issue.  However, landlords in Scotland are required to investigate the likely cause and hold evidence if it is the tenant’s responsibility. 

Rising Damp

Rising damp, as the name implies, is moisture wicked up into dry building material from the ground.  Modern buildings have a damp barrier fitted between brick courses just above ground level.  Whereas, this water barrier is typically a membrane, older houses will have used slate.  Stone buildings may have no damp course at all.

The signs of rising damp are ‘tide marks’ and salt deposits on walls.  A useful breakdown of rising damp indicators can be found on Richardson and Starling’s website at:

https://www.richardsonandstarling.co.uk/blog/rising-damp-signs/

Penetrating Damp

Penetrating damp is where water enters the home externally.  Typical causes are loss of mortar between bricks (pointing), gutters overflowing and causing water to enter the eaves of the property and run down a cavity wall, sealant failure at windows, roof/chimney damage allowing water ingress. 

There will be occasions where water seepage from pipework or other source internally allows water to penetrate walls and floors.  These causes are usually easy for a plumber to identify and fix.  Although we have had houses where copper pipes have been punctured by flooring fixing nails.  The leaks only got noticed once the iron nails rusted to cause a small, continuous leak.

Any slow penetration of water into the fabric of the building will cause issues such as plaster breakdown, timber decay, wet and dry rot, mould growth and building material decay.  The damage may occur over prolonged periods and can be expensive to resolve.

A further explanation of penetrating damp can be found on the Peter Cox website at:

https://www.petercox.com/our-services/penetrating-damp/what-is/

Condensation

Condensation forms when the air indoors can’t hold any more moisture.  The excess moisture condenses to form water droplets when there is a change of air temperature, such as at windows, and external walls or unheated rooms in a house. 

Water misting internally on windows, and collecting as small pools on a windowsill, is a sure sign of condensation. The water droplets lead to mould growth. Which is why black, sooty mould is frequently found above skirting boards and around windows.  In bathrooms mould will grow on ceilings due to the greater moisture generation from baths and showers.

In a warm environment the amount of moisture droplets carried as airborne moisture increases. 

Excess air borne moisture is naturally expelled in well ventilated houses with adequate heating throughout.  However, modern living encourages energy efficiency through removing drafts and adding insulation.  The result is a reluctance to leave window vents open, use mechanical extraction correctly, leave air bricks unblocked and block off fireplaces without fitting air vents. 

Reducing the production of moisture by fixing identified building faults or repairs is a landlord’s responsibility.  Living a lifestyle that reduces moisture falls on the tenant.

Unfortunately, we do find a resistance in tenants of accepting responsibility for lifestyle changes. 

The Institute of Specialist Surveyors and Engineers (ISSE) estimate an individual can produce 1.6 Kg per day of moisture[1] metabolically.  Add to this the moisture generated by washing, cooking, drying clothes etc. Excessive moisture levels in a home can exist simply through day to day living.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?

Landlords have always had a duty of care to their tenant’s health and wellbeing.  The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 have formalised this care into legislation. 

The replacement of Sherrif Courts with the First-tier Tribunal in Scotland has enabled tenants and landlords to free legal redress.  The option to withhold rent (abatement) to encourage repairs is increasing among tenants, supported, and encouraged by a multitude of tenant organisations and charities.  Moreover, the use of no-fault evictions is not available under the Private Residential Tenancy to remove tenants with problem lifestyles. 

Landlord have now to work closely with tenants to resolve the causes of damp, rather than fix things once the tenant has left. 

Clearly, structural faults in a property can be addressed.  Property recovery under a PRT is available where the repair work is substantial and cannot be carried out in a tenanted property. 

Equally no landlord wants to put the health of their tenants at risk.  Mould growth can have serious consequences to many tenants in poor health.  Those with lung problems such as asthma and COPD[2] are especially at risk in humid conditions. 

Dealing with mould and other fungal growth rotting a building’s fabric can be addressed and is the landlord’s responsibility to do so. 

The problems come where there are grey areas, such as a tenant’s obligation under a lease to notify the owner of any damage in a property.  An example is a spongy bathroom floor indicating possible water damage to fibreboard floorboards.  This work needs to be addressed quickly to avoid wet rot and often requires floor replacement. 

The lease will have a clause requiring tenants to notify the agent/landlord of repair timeously when they become aware of an issue.  When tenants fail to do this, they hold a responsibility towards the cost of repair. 

WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

Under the Repairing Standards legislation landlords have a duty to maintain and repair rented property in Scotland as ‘wind and watertight’.

Fixing dry or wet rot damage can be addressed using specialist contractors, leaking roofs and other building work by standard trades. 

Fixing damage caused by condensation and making sure the problem is permanently fixed is not so easy when tenants’ lifestyles are involved.

In my blog, Condensation damp claims I look at how landlords should approach tenant lifestyle issues in Scotland and how the Tribunal consider claims from tenants and landlords.

There are several handy downloads online[3] for landlords to give to tenants which explain the causes, actions to remedy and managing condensation. 

If any landlord wants more information on Key-Lets Services or any other aspect of letting please give me a call on 01292 289289 or reach out to [email protected].  I and the team will be happy to help. Key-Lets registration is LARN1903012.

[1] https://www.isse.org.uk/articles/dampness

[2] https://www.webmd.com/lung/copd-humidity

[3] https://www.kent.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/58516/Damp-mould-and-condensation-advice.pdf


Call Tim on 01292 289289 or Email: [email protected]

We have a number of helpful videos on our YouTube channel.

You can message me through Linked In.

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TIM WILLIAMSON

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