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Damp, mould and the HHSRS


Cases yet to be written up are in a growing pile, but frankly it has been too darn hot to have the laptop on my lap for more than half an hour, so they are going to have to wait. Instead, here is a quick note on two recent DLUHC/govt publications on damp and mould, and on proposed revisions to the housing health and safety rating system.

First, the DLUHC guidance document “Understanding and addressing the health risks of damp and mould in the home“, published on 7 September 2023. This has no statutory force at all, but was produced in response to the coroner’s findings in the Awaab Ishak inquest. It is aimed at landlords and tenants.

It is, overall, a rather good piece of work. The summaries on legal obligations and standards are clear, the notes on health risks are well done and the recommendations for courses of action set out firmly. And, in a further knock back of the ‘it’s a lifestyle problem’ tradition of approach, the guidance is firm:

As this guidance also makes clear, tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould. Damp and mould in the home are not the result of ‘lifestyle choices’, and it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address the underlying causes of the problem, such as structural issues or inadequate ventilation.

Secondly, and in some ways related, there was the 7 September 2023 publication of the “Summary report: outcomes and next steps for the review of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)“. This is part of the ongoing reform of the HHSRS. The summary report is rather ‘high end’, but the key proposed changes are:

  • To make the assessment process more efficient for local authorities and more accessible to landlords and tenants, we will amalgamate some hazards assessed, reducing the total number from 29 to 21, and produce a simpler means of banding the results of HHSRS assessments.
  • To make it easier for landlords and tenants to understand the system, we will publish baselines that can be used to make an initial assessment of whether a property contains serious hazards (eg ‘stairs must be safe, secure, in sound condition, free of defects and projections, well maintained’). These do not replace the whole risk assessment but are easier to understand.
  • To ensure assessments are consistent, quick and a solid base for effective enforcement, we will publish new statutory operating and enforcement guidance, a comprehensive set of new case studies, and specific tailored guidance for all stakeholders. Our suppliers also carried out analysis of digital assessment, setting out how this should be interlinked with existing databases, and reviewed training requirements and competency frameworks.
  • To make sure the risk of fire in tall buildings can be assessed effectively (following the Grenfell tragedy), we recommended amalgamating the ‘Fire’ hazard with ‘Explosions in Dwellings’. The ‘relevant matters affecting likelihood and harm outcome’, as listed in the operating guidance, are then updated with specific minimum standards which were then field tested and found to mitigate 90% of significant fire hazards.

This all could be OK. But as ever, the devil will be in the detail. In particular, with hazard categories being changed to descriptors from ‘extreme’ to ‘moderate’, how those descriptors are to be assessed, and the thresholds between them will be of crucial importance, not least for the assessment of damp and mould risk. Revising the HHSRS should not lead to a lessening of risks.

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. Ian Narbeth

    “As this guidance also makes clear, tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould. Damp and mould in the home are not the result of ‘lifestyle choices’, and it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address the underlying causes of the problem, such as structural issues or inadequate ventilation.”

    If that is true, Mr Gove has then proved a negative which is a logical fallacy. If he is correct then nothing the tenants do causes the problem. The tenants who don’t open windows to let steam escape after a bath or shower, tenants who don’t turn the heating on, the tenant (of mine) who didn’t want to turn the extractor on because it disturbed her children’s computer gaming, the tenant drying laundry in the living room, the tenant never wiping down condensation, none of them are responsible for damp and mould but I as a landlord am.

    Mr Gove had perhaps better educate housing officers. The one who inspected an HMO I own remarked, unprompted, that in over 90% of cases it was tenants’ lifestyle that caused the damp problem. How are landlords supposed to ensure tenants open windows and use extractor fans?

    Again if Mr Gove is correct, why aren’t there similar problems of damp with owner/occupied properties? Could it possibly be because of ‘lifestyle choices’ like taking care, ventilating rooms, heating them properly, wiping up condensation and dealing with damp and mould early?

    The above is not to say that landlords have no responsibility or that there are never structural problems that need fixing. However, Mr Gove should not be taken seriously if he generalises in the way he has done. Threatening landlords with Draconian penalties will lead to even more of them stopping renting, making housing scarcer and pushing up rents.

  2. Christopher Burt

    @Ian Narbeth, The issue is that previously, professionals and landlords have been able to ignore the vast majority of claims by just saying the magic world ‘lifestyle choices’. This guidance is needed to ensure claims can’t just be waved away and force landlords to investigate mould issues and look for resolutions.

  3. Phoebe Paxton

    @Christopher Burt, I completely agree. I moved into a property and within 3 weeks of being there I found damp and water damage in my bedroom. Multiple times the maintenance man said I was “sweating the room” and so I bought my own moisture meter and it was going up to 70% in the places where I reported damp and they still seem to not believe me. Now I’m having to go through court action going against an incredibly big agency which is quite scary and taxing.
    At the same time, I can see your point of view @Ian Narbeth. Especially if you are a solo private landlord, however, if you put things in the contract such as making sure you use appropriate facilities to dry clothes and when using the stove to put on the extractor, that way your standing would still be recognized if something more formal than them complaining to yourself were to happen, surely?


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