Landlords told to fix mouldy homes within 24 hours
Michael Gove says that under Awaab’s Law, social housing landlords must deal with condensation issues without delay.
Since 2 years-old Awaab Ishak’s death in a social housing Rochdale flat, which a coroner put down to condensation in the home and his “chronic exposure to mould”, the Housing Secretary been energised on the issue and with the power of public opinion behind him, has introduced tough new rules regarding mould in rental housing.
Michael Gove has since stated that landlords are now required to repair mouldy homes within 24 hours under his department’s push to improve social housing standards.
But to the relief perhaps of the private sector landlord the full force of this latest amendment will fall mainly on social landlords.
In defence of the private landlords’ case, Housing Minister Baroness Scott of Bybrook said in the Lords that there are big differences between the rented housing tenures: “Almost half of private rental landlords own a single property and the vast majority own fewer than five so, unlike social housing landlords, very few will have in-house or contracted repair and maintenance teams, which makes it more difficult.”
She also pointed out the pressure on Parliamentary time and that the “safety and decency of private rented homes would be addressed by the Renters Reform Bill, particularly through an amendment to apply a decent homes standard to the PRS for the first time and to give local councils enforcement powers.”
The move by no means absolves the private sector landlord of any blame should their rental accommodation be affected: numerous regulations already in place govern the health and safety of tenants in private rental homes, all enforced by local authority officials.
The Housing Act 2004 states that all homes must be free of the most dangerous ‘category 1’ hazards (of which mould is one) under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), a risk-based evaluation tool used by local authority housing officers to assess dangers.
A category 1 hazard indicates that a hazard exists that would be injurious to the health of residents and visitors and requires immediate attention. The local authority has the power to take action against a landlord for category 1 and even for the low danger level of category 2 hazards.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that all homes must not contain conditions that are injurious to health and gives tenants and local councils the power to take legal action where homes contain a ‘statutory nuisance’, one which includes: where they are in such a state as to be prejudicial to health. To be a statutory nuisance, the damp and mould must be harmful to the health of the tenant, or a nuisance.
Older provisions are contained in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, subsequently added to by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 which require that rental homes are free of hazards, including damp and mould.
Under Section 9A and Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 - where a home that is unfit for human habitation, meaning not free from damp and mould that could cause significant harm, tenants themselves can bring a County Court claim against the landlord for breach of an implied or express term in a tenancy agreement. They may also be eligible for legal aid.
The Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015 also have a bearing on the condensation and mould issue as heating or lack of it is a primary factor, often the cause of mould in rental properties.
Privately rented homes must meet the Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency standard of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band E, except a limited number of exempt rentals, and these standards are scheduled to tighten in the coming years. The regulations don’t make reference to damp and mould, but an energy efficient rental property, which reduces the cost of heating, is far less likely to be affected by condensation, provided it is also adequately ventilated.
In a recently published article here on LandlordZONE, Tom Entwistle sets out a comprehensive review of how private landlords can deal effectively with damp, mould and condensation in their rental properties. This is extremely important. No responsible landlord wants the death or injury of one or more of their tenants on the conscience.
The social landlord regime - investigate without delay
The Rt Hon Michael Gove was appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations on 25 October 2022.
Under his lasts proposals, social landlords will be expected to investigate hazards found within their properties immediately, start to deal with the problem within 14 days and fix it within a further seven days.
Perhaps responsible private sector landlords should take note and follow suit: inspect their properties regularly and when defects - particularly damp, condensation and mould - are reported by tenants, carry out an immediate inspection with evidence notes, photographs and a full risk assessment, followed by advice to tenants and timely corrective action.
Where mould is discovered in social housing, emergency repairs will have to be carried out within 24 hours, with tenants able to take their landlords to court should they fail to comply with the timescales.
New provisions in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 were recently added to the legislation by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 which require that rental properties are free of hazards, including damp and mould, creating conditions that are so serious that the dwelling is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.
New guidance was recently published by the Government “Understanding and addressing the health risks of damp and mould in the home” which sets out the Government’s directives on house the condensation and mould issue is to be dealt with by residential landlords.
The documents states:
“This government is committed to ensuring a decent standard of housing for tenants in the social and private rented sectors. Through the Renters (Reform) Bill and Social Housing Regulation Act, legislative changes will improve housing standards. We will:
We urge landlords to read this guidance and adopt the best practices it sets out. This will protect tenants’ health and prevent avoidable tragedies like the death of Awaab Ishak happening to another family.”
Despite the emphasis in the document on social housing landlords, the cause of Awab’s death, the rules, although not directly applying to private sector landlords – should nevertheless be taken very seriously by the private sector.
The direction of travel from the legislators and public opinion will almost certainly judge private landlords exactly on a par with housing association and council landlords, should any future scandals arise. Stiff penalties are to be applied if landlords ignore damp and mould problems.
Faisal Abdhulla and Aisha Amin, the boy’s parents, had repeatedly raised concerns to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about the flat’s conditions but no action was taken, with the social landlord blaming the mould on “family lifestyle”.
Michael Gove has publicly stated, rightly or wrongly, that no blame should be apportioned to tenant residents in damp, condensation and mould cases. In reality, this does not mean that if it came to a court case, landlords would have no defence whatsoever.
Faisal Abdullah, Awaab’s father said:
“We hope that Awaab’s Law will stop any other family going through the pain that we went through.
“Landlords need to listen to the concerns of tenants and we support these proposals.”
The Housing Secretary’s new proposals would also demand social landlords keep clear records on reported hazards within their properties and attempts to resolve them.
Mr Gove has said:
“The tragic death of Awaab Ishak should never have happened. His family have shown courageous leadership, determination and dignity to champion these changes and now it’s time for us to deliver for them through Awaab’s Law.
“Today is about stronger and more robust action against social landlords who have refused to take their basic responsibilities seriously for far too long.
“We will force them to fix their homes within strict new time limits and take immediate action to tackle dangerous damp and mould to help prevent future tragedies.”
The Regulator for Social Housing is to be given new powers to issue unlimited fines for landlords under the Social Housing (Regulation) Act, a law which became active last year. The regulator will also be empowered to enter homes with only 48 hours’ notice in the most severe cases.