This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Tenants should ventilate and heat their homes adequately but sometimes damp and mould will persist despite this. If it does, tenants should report the problem to the landlord and /or managing agent. Once they are aware of the issue, they should ensure it’s addressed. There are several legal remedies tenants might use if the issue isn’t resolved. There’s online advice for private tenants on the risk of retaliatory eviction.
Damp and mould due to disrepair
Sometimes the cause will be obvious, eg a leaking roof. Most landlords have a statutory duty to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling and to keep in repair and proper working order certain installations, eg for the supply of water.
Tenants have the option of suing a landlord for breach of their repairing duty – it’s advisable to seek professional legal advice.
Damp and mould and unfit housing
Most landlords have a statutory duty to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation at the start and throughout the tenancy. One of the factors considered in determining if a property is unfit is “freedom from damp”. Properties must also be free of hazards as defined by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Damp and mould and excess cold might amount to a category 1 hazard.
Tenants can take legal action against their landlord for breaches of this statutory duty. There’s guidance: Guide for tenants: Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 – GOV.UK.
Using local authority environmental health officers (EHOs)
Private and housing association tenants can request an inspection by an EHO. Where an EHO identifies category 1 hazards under the HHSRS they must act to ensure the hazard’s removal. This might involve serving a notice on the landlord, eg an improvement notice. EHOs have enforcement powers where landlords don’t comply.
This route is less helpful for council tenants because a local authority can’t act against itself.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 applies where a tenant’s home is suffering from a ‘statutory nuisance’. The Act sets out circumstances which might give rise to a statutory nuisance, including: “… any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance”. Dampness, condensation or mould growth are examples of defects in premises which are considered prejudicial to health.
Private and housing association tenants can request an inspection by a local authority environmental health officer (EHO). Where a statutory nuisance is identified, the EHO must serve an abatement notice requiring the nuisance to be addressed.
Tenants have the option of pursuing a private prosecution for statutory nuisance in a magistrate’s court under section 82 of the 1990 Act.
The Decent Homes Standard
The Decent Homes Standard (DHS) is a non-statutory standard which was introduced by the 1997 Labour Government. Registered providers of social housing are required to meet the Home Standard. This is one of four consumer standards set by the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). The Home Standard refers to the DHS.
A two-part review of the Decent Homes Standard launched in 2021. Part 1 concluded the standard remained broadly suitable and effective but said an update would be beneficial.
Complaints and regulation
Tenants of councils and housing associations can use their landlord’s internal complaints procedure where a reported problem isn’t addressed. If this doesn’t yield results, the matter may be referred to the Housing Ombudsman for an independent investigation. The Ombudsman can recommend compensation but cannot order specific work to be carried out nor issue enforceable orders for the completion of work in urgent cases.
The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) plays a role in ensuring registered providers of social housing adhere to the relevant consumer standards, including the Home Standard.
In the private rented sector, all letting and property managing agents must be a member of a Government approved redress scheme. If a manging agent fails to respond to complaints about damp and mould a complaint can be lodged through the relevant redress scheme.
Government and regulatory action
On 20 November 2022, the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, wrote to all council leaders and social housing providers setting out expectations in relation to damp and mould and issuing a direction under section 3(3) of the Housing Act 2004. He said all homes must meet the DHS – those that don’t should have “rapid remedial works” – he called for “particular regard to damp and mould.”
On 22 November 2022, the RSH wrote to chief executives of large and small registered social housing providers asking for assurances on addressing damp and mould risks in tenants’ homes. Large providers (stock over 1,000 units) had to provide specific information and data by 19 December 2022.
Measures in the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, currently before Parliament, would strengthen the RSH’s enforcement powers in cases of poor conditions and strengthen tenants’ rights.
On 2 September 2022, the Government published a consultation on applying the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector.
There are proposals to place a legal duty on landlords to ensure properties meet the DHS. Local authorities would have a duty to investigate complaints. A breach would be a criminal offence potentially incurring a civil penalty or resulting in prosecution in the Magistrate’s Court.
The consultation closed on 14 October 2022, the Government is considering responses.
- Housing conditions in the private rented sector (England) – House of Commons Library
- Repairs – damp – Citizens Advice
- Damp and mould in rented homes – Shelter England
- Spotlight on damp and mould: It’s not lifestyle – October 2021 (PDF) Housing Ombudsman
- Legal help: where to go and how to pay – House of Commons Library
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.