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Damp and Mould – “It’s not lifestyle”.

The Housing Ombudsman has released a special spotlight report addressing the issue of damp and mould, called “Spotlight on: Damp and mould. It’s not lifestyle”

It is the result of both the media spotlight on social housing conditions (ITV News with Dan Hewitt prominent amongst them), and what is described as “the high uphold rate and reoccurring reasons leading to maladministration” in the Ombudsman’s case work. (Of 410 complaints investigated, 56% resulted in findings of maladministration, 501 orders were made to put something right with 288 additional recommendations, and £123,094.57 in compensation was ordered across 222 cases, with sums over £1,000 being ordered in 21 cases.)

There is a league table of the worst performers, councils and housing associations, with some reaching maladministration findings in 91% of investigated complaints (A2 Dominion since you asked).

There are 26 recommendations, all aimed at moving social landlords from a reactive to a proactive approach, and improving their complaints and response systems.

The whole is well worth reading. There are inevitably, given that this comes from the Ombudsman, some bits that claimant lawyers will disagree with (the Ombudsman is generally not keen on tenants taking legal action). For example, in a section on the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, the report says

This is not necessarily the most effective route to resolution for residents as some registered providers will settle the claim out of court while the underlying disrepair issue remains outstanding.

I’d have to say if that was allowed to happen, the tenant’s lawyers would be at fault. Any settlement should of course include an enforceable commitment for repairs, within a set period. Sadly, enforcement action then has to be taken quite often when the landlord doesn’t carry out or complete works, but at least enforcement is possible, unlike an Ombudsman decision/order.

But this is a niggle in what is otherwise a well considered report, with recommendations that all social landlords should indeed put into practice.

In a passage that will no doubt raise applause from a lot of affected tenants, and those who act for them, the Ombudsman says:

This leads to the most sensitive area – the inference of blame on the resident and the associated onus on them when it is often not solely their issue. Our call for evidence revealed an immense frustration and sense of unfairness at the information residents are sometimes provided by landlords about issues like condensation and mould. This reoccurred so often it is appropriate to call it systemic. I met with residents who spoke about feeling patronised, even stigmatised. While I appreciate this is not intended, I would urge engagement with residents to review communication and literature, working together with them to co-design meaningful advice that shares responsibility and supports them at a distressing time. In doing so I hope the word ‘lifestyle’, when it may be a consequence of limited choices, is banished from the vernacular.

The routine refusal by landlords to accept that there are issues with a property, and to blame the tenant for the problems (‘open the windows, keep the heating on, keep the bathroom and kitchen door closed’ etc etc.) has been a huge issue for getting damp and mould dealt with. (It also doesn’t make practical sense if the bathroom and/or kitchen aren’t provided with adequate ventilation. It just ensures mould in those areas).

It is perhaps unfortunate timing for them that in the same week as the report, a housing association, Housing For Women, released a guide to tenants for ‘Managing Mould and Condensation’ which states, at page 2

Housing for Women leaflet
“Making sure your home is free of mould and damp is not only important for your health, but it is also your responsibility as a tenant.”

The Ombudsman’s recommendations might have some way to go to being realised…

PS . ITV News Dan Hewitt has an interview with the Ombudsman on the report here.


Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


  1. Jamestown

    I cam vouch for the frustration of tenants refusing to open windows in bathrooms and then complaining about mould .

    Unfortunate for everyone. Landlord can’t do muchb ( we our extractor fans in but truthfully you need something industrial if you’re not going to open the window )

    My place inwould open the window every time I had a shower. 10 mins later close it never had mould in 3 years.

    Hut hey ho there are a million variations. Of this for lanlorrd and tenants .

    Maybe a simple checklist eg does bathroom have windows yes / no . What power of extraction fan required based on room area etc .

    Then landlords are covered and tenants csnt complain landlord hasn’t done XYZ

    • Giles Peaker

      Marvellous. Have you spent any time reading the report?

  2. DavidP

    Thanks for bringing this important report to our attention Giles, I will definitely be reading it more fully this evening.

    This is a subject I am passionate about because I suffered the “Landlord denial” and victim blaming for 3 years, along with the health issues to my lungs. When I got Covid my already damaged lungs caused me to suffer greatly with a 7 week stay in hospital.

    In that case it was a ground floor flat and it was linked to the damp proof course and I think this is a common thread.

    Landlords in the UK should consider themselves lucky, in the USA whole buildings can be condemned if the mould gets into the walls or escapes the ventilation system.

    I do think remedies for tenants need more teeth. My thinking is something like the points system we have for driving licenses. First a warning and a requirement to attend a course run by local Council. Then for second offence on same property a 2 year ban on renting the property for and a requirement that the property then requires an assessment confirming the mould has been fully treated, not just cleaned and redecorated.

    If readers of this blog are busy and think they will get back to this, if nothing else they should read the forward from Richard Blakeway and especially the summary recommendations for senior management, all 26 of them.

    I agree with Mr Blakeway when he says:

    “Our view is that landlords should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould. This does not mean zero cases. But it does mean less fatalism.

    Fatalism that can sometimes result in a loss of empathy. The policy and legislative basis for taking a zero-tolerance attitude is compelling.

    It is clear many landlords are reacting to mould. This does not mean zero cases. But it does mean less fatalism. Fatalism that can sometimes result in a loss of empathy.

    The policy and legislative basis for taking a zero-tolerance attitude is compelling.

    It is clear many landlords are reacting to residents rather than proactively reviewing the homes and buildings they manage or lease.
    Landlords should be on the front foot identifying potential issues which, given residents rather than proactively reviewing the homes and buildings they manage or lease.

    Landlords should be on the front foot identifying potential issues.”

    Like so many things in society early intervention makes a big difference. It is not enough to clean mould because the spores can live for years waiting for damp which then reactivates them to grow.

    The additional legislation I would like to see is that a building could be condemned for mould, I believe that this is the only thing that would make Freeholders and leaseholders sit up and take action to protect their investment. I also think we need some legal penalties for the repeat offenders with the proceeds going to the Tenant as they do for RRO and Deposit protection. This will create community policing but I would like them to be run outside the Courts, either by Councils or by one a quango.

    The fact that Social Landlords appear largely in these league tables is not lost on me. That is why if we had a quango that maintained a database that Tenants could look up before signing a tenancy agreement, a bit like the MOT system, they could make informed decisions.

    What I noted from the league tables in the report is that a lot of it is in London and that Housing Associations, that said a former partner of mine lived in social housing and their Social Landlord was brilliant, after cleaning it they treated it with some sort of spray, they painted over with anti mould paint. They have been in that property for 6 years with no reoccurrence.

    I am not saying that Tenants can’t help but we must get away from this victim blaming, the property I was in had no windows in the bathroom and I always kept the bathroom door closed. The issue was nothing to do with the bathroom nor clothes drying (a common blame factor for Landlords) it was systemic in the building. Out of interest my former partner used to dry their clothes on a clothes rail and never had the mould come back.

    All it takes is that Landlords treat their property with a professional treatment, use anti mould paint (particularly around windows) and realise that they are actually protecting their investment.

  3. David Porter

    The vast majority of the time condensation and mould IS a lifestyle issue, though. Empty property – no condensation or mould. Previous tenants – no condensation or mould. New tenant – suddenly there’s condensation and mould. That is not a property issue, it’s a lifestyle issue. But trying to educate the tenant is now considered patronising and victim-blaming, and the word ‘lifestyle’ needs to be banished? Give me strength.

    • J

      A property which only develops problems once it is occupied sounds, to my untrained ear, like one which is unfit for human habitation.

      • David Porter

        J, you missed the bit where I said, “Previous tenants – no condensation or mould.” In any case, if a property does not have a condensation or mould problem when vacant, but it does when occupied, then it is indeed the lifestyle of the occupiers causing the issue. That is, putting too much water vapour into the air through cooking, washing, showering, drying clothes over radiators, etc, and not enough heating or ventilation.

    • Giles Peaker

      ‘The vast majority’? Therein lies the problem. You have no evidence for that, and clearly approach any problems with that view. Exactly the problem the Ombudsman highlighted.

      Certainly, some situations are down to tenant’s conduct. Many aren’t, and many are a mixture in which the nature of the property jointly creates or exacerbates a problem together with the tenant’s conduct. There is no problem that I can see in advising tenants how to mitigate issues. But if that is *all* you do, while telling them it is their problem, then you are the issue.

      • David Porter

        Giles, I have 35+ years’ experience as a building surveyor specialising in residential property defects. I would say less than 1% of condensation issues I’ve come across have been caused by building defects. Therefore, yes, I would say the vast majority.

        I ‘clearly approach any problems with that view’? You have absolutely no evidence for that statement; you have just assumed – wrongly – that I am ignorant of the problem.

        ‘Exactly the problem the Ombudsman highlighted’? So because I disagree with the Ombudsman’s report, this proves they are right? Circular reasoning at its finest.

        ‘Many aren’t’? What is your evidence for that, beyond the Housing Ombudsman’s report? A report which is based on flawed methodology and skewed data, limited to their own casebook and 555 self-selected, non-random survey responses. A report from an organisation which receives a fair number of complaints about itself, judging by their 1.5 rating on Google – well worth reading.

        If the HO was truly interested in solving this ‘problem’, they should have commissioned an independent survey from somebody like BRE – you know, somebody that actually knows technical stuff about buildings.

        • Giles Peaker

          And I have 15 years experience is housing defect cases, in which condensation and severe mould was caused by tenants’ actions alone in about 10% of cases, tops. So I’m afraid your argument from experience doesn’t really impress me.

          As you have just said, again, that you consider the vast majority (99%) of issues are due to tenant conduct, this is clearly your expectation – that it is highly unlikely to be anything else. It would be a surprise of such a firmly, stridently expressed belief had no impact on your approach. Indeed, it clearly does as you have dismissed any contrary views. (I have to take a sceptical approach to causes because I am looking at whether there is an arguable case on the evidence, on the other hand.)

          And then you are back again to argument from experience. Fine, my experience contradicts yours. But there is other evidence, as referenced in the report, such as the (independent) English Housing Survey, which, let us be blunt, looks at a lot more properties and more often, than you or I.

          So let us see. For social housing:

          Damp 5% of stock
          Thermal discomfort 5% of stock (This is inadequate heating, inadequate insulation or both)
          Mould and condensation – at least 3% of stock, of which a sixth (17%) had inadequate ventilation.

          Just 1% of condensation and mould affected properties not being due to tenant behaviour is, I’m afraid, demonstrably nonsense.

    • DavidP

      Without respect, that is a ridiculous argument to make. Obviously when someone leaves you clean and maybe decorate the property, then while empty there is little or no moisture in the air. When a tenant occupies a property they breathe, they boil a kettle, they use a washing machine and a Fridge. They may do the unthinkable and wash, some will even shower every day. This is called habitation. It is never sudden. Certainly get the leaflets from your council about mould and how they can help, but if your property has an inherent problem it is your obligation to fix it. When I read comments like your I too say “give me strength” and join campaigns to get such Landlord banished.

      I recently had a case of the Tenant being blamed for mould in a bathroom that had no window, we got the tenant to have a contractor inspect the fan, they removed it, took photos and made a note of the brand. It turned out to be a cheapo ebay replacement, it’s ability to extract the air was minimal, the mould behind that fan was like a huge alien blob. The strongest evidence was the photos both in the right move listing and that the Tenant was sensible enough to take on day one of the listing. They showed staining in the grouting and on the ceiling in exactly the same places.

      The Landlord withheld the deposit and when we checked it led to a claim for 9x the deposit for three tenancies, I am convinced that the mould issue swayed the Judge to award the maximum.

      Please read the report and stop living in denial, take on the suggestions and protect your investment.

      Thinking about my post above a publicly accessible fitness for habitation register would not only help tenants but potential buyers of the property so that lazy landlords could not dump the property on some other poor sod. If it cost the lazy landlord £30k in sale price then finally they might start to take notice of this very real problem which is NOT a lifestyle issue.

      • David Porter

        I’m not sure why you say, “without respect,” just because we have different views and experiences. I do agree that if a property has an inherent problem it is the landlord’s obligation to fix it. However, in my experience, it is the occupier’s lifestyle which causes the problem in the vast majority of cases I have come across.

        I have read the report. In my view it is based on flawed methodology and skewed data.

    • Martin Roy Clive McGowan

      Screammmmm!!! commonest cause of mould is water leaks, usually from guttering or roof, sometimes internal from bad plumbing. No you don’t get condensation if there is not enough heat in property. David you are pumping out moisture every minute of every day just by living. condensation occurs on cold surfaces. Clue? the reason behind the insulate Britain campaign. I have worked on social housing as a plumber. I well remember talking to people whose homes had been properly insulated, cheaper heating bills and the following winter no condensation on the walls and NO MOULD.
      Install trickle vent ventilation in every room. as for the ludicrous advice to open the bathroom windows when bathing. most people in social housing are just scraping by financially and you say let your hot air escape and heat the world. Landlords properly insulate your properties, have intelligently designed heating and ventilation systems. I am a disabled pensioner who used to work in the trade. I don’t open windows wide when showering, I do dry my washing in the bathroom, I do have my heating on at reasonable levels. My housing association had built with wall insulation, loft insulation and double glazing, my house and all my neighbours have NO condensation problems. So it is about educating the landlord into providing good well designed homes.

  4. Andrew M

    I have like experience to David Porter but see Giles’ point. Both are valid : the difference is first the means to heat the home or heat the home with open windows, means to afford a tumble drier and more likely to be overcrowded ie family flats 3 bed and up are more common on the public sector built buildings, with a higher incidence of financial stress but second, the biggest difference is the construction. Systems built homes usually apartments but some houses and where most stock was built pre 1973 when energy was cheap and insulation rarely discussed while air exchange rates were achieved by not worrying about drafts too much. latter installation of UPVC windows and doors drastically reduced natural ventilation and the cold spots moved to walls where furniture and or construction create cold spots or bridges. Standard of upkeep is vital even if water isn’t penetrating wet walls defective guttering poor pointing or rendering reduce the temperature of the wall and its u or R values. I would suggest looking at use not lifestyle and a hygrometer test, trickle vents and extractor fans and then a thermal camera and inspection \research of the construction and lapses in repair. I can think of examples where insulation behind plaster or in cavities was not installed in newer builds in a section for no obvious reason( Friday perhaps) just missing,. I would suggest both David and Giles are right in given circumstances so perhaps the maxim is ask the occupant to get their house in order BUT do likewise about your own.

  5. andrewmM

    On a related note I stumbled across an article about the design of apartments, of all values, in new york post Spanish flu where the oversized often steam radiators were designed to heat and keep windows open in winter to defeat a reoccurrence.


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