07 Jun 2022

Whose responsibility is mould in a rental home and how should a tenant deal with it?

What are renters' rights when health-threatening mould takes hold in the property they occupy? The landlord, right? Well, that depends. 

Relentless rain and high humidity in Australia's east have created the perfect conditions for mould to spread rapidly in dampened homes.

Exposure to mould can cause serious health problems and it should be removed with care, while wearing the correct personal protective equipment, and sometimes with professional help.

But the sight of mould on ceilings, walls, furniture and anywhere else it spreads can prompt one of the most commonly asked questions about rental property maintenance: Who is responsible for mould?

Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) chief executive officer Antonia Mercorella and Tenants Queensland CEO Penny Carr said it largely depended on what caused the mould to grow in the first place.

Ms Mercorella said a structural issue that led to mould growth would make it the property owner's responsibility.

"I think it can be caused by things like windows that don't seal properly," she said.

"It might be caused due to a leaky pipe … roofs leaking.

"If the tenant identifies mould that is being caused by a problem that's within the owner's remit … it's really important that the tenant reports that as quickly as possible, so that the owner can ultimately address that issue."

Mould after flood damage

Ms Carr said it would also be the property owner's responsibility if mould grew as a result of a property being damaged in a flood event or a cyclone, for example.

"The problem will then be trying to keep that place dry because, if it's continuously wet, the mould will reappear," she said.

According to the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA), the property manager or owner is more likely to be responsible due to factors such as age, structural issues, location, or the absence of adequate ventilation or extractor fans.

When is the tenant responsible?

Ms Carr said tenants were responsible for any damage they caused to the property.

They could therefore be responsible for mould growth resulting from an exhaust fan not getting used in a bathroom, or for not opening windows and doors to ventilate the property.

"[But] where there was no way to ventilate the property, that's not a tenant responsibility," Ms Carr said.

"It is just like any other repair issue.

"You go through the same step to inform the other party, you ask them for the solution that you're looking for and, if they don't come through with the solution, then you can give them a notice to remedy breach and or take them to the tribunal to get an order about it."

Ms Carr said the cause of mould could often lead to a dispute between tenants and owners.

"Whatever you think is causing it, if you're a tenant, put it in writing, let the other person know as quickly as possible, [so] your agent or owner knows as quickly as possible, and let them know what you think the solution might be," she said.

"If you don't know the solution, just ask them to come and have a look and fix it.

"Whether it's mould or a roof leak or something other than that, and it's not your responsibility and you didn't damage it as the tenant, if you can't use what you're paying for as your rental home, then you'll be able to ask for a rent decrease during the time that it's unusable."

Act early to avoid health effects

Both Ms Mercorella and Ms Carr stressed the importance of reporting issues about mould growth early to prevent it becoming a more serious problem, both as a health hazard and as a costly removal exercise.

Ms Mercorella said if a leaking roof was causing the mould, and the property owner or manager was not prepared to address it, then the tenant had a right to terminate the tenancy agreement if the dwelling was not fit for habitation.

They could also lodge a dispute with the RTA, which could progress to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-18/tenants-impacted-by-mould-have-rights-but-what-are-they/101074330

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