The recent rainy period has created moisture and humidity levels in Brisbane that have created the perfect breeding ground for mould growth in our homes.
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?
So what are renters’ rights when health-threatening mould takes hold in the property they occupy and who is responsible? The landlord, right? Well, that depends.
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?
As a standard rule tenants are responsible for any damage they caused to the property. A tenant does have a responsibility to look after the property and clean 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.
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.”
“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
Ms Mercorella 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.
Causes of mould
Mould grows in damp, dull and poorly ventilated spaces, such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. Dust and dirt also helps mould grow.
Mould can negatively affect your health.
Preventing mould and damp
The best way to prevent mould and damp is ensure your home is dry and well-aired:
- Allow sunlight into the property as much as possible, especially in the bathroom, laundry and kitchen.
- Open doors and windows to allow air to circulate, particularly in the bathroom.
- Open windows when you’re cooking, or using a shower, bath or clothes dryer. (Check the air from your clothes dryer is vented outside, not inside. Do not put holes in external walls or ceiling sheets without our approval.)
- Clean wet areas of your home, such as your bathroom, kitchen and laundry regularly. Wipe away moisture from windows, walls and near taps. Keep bathroom walls, showers, shower curtains, baths and basins as dry as possible.
- Dry and air damp clothes and shoes outside as soon as possible. Ensure they’re dry before putting in a wardrobe or clothes-storing area. Leave wardrobe doors open where possible.
- Clean carpets and rugs regularly using a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter vacuum cleaner.
- Clean up water leaks and spills indoors immediately.
- Clean evaporation trays in air coolers, dehumidifiers and refrigerators frequently.
- Don’t run evaporative air cooling systems with water during high humidity (over 65%). If the air feels humid, run the air cooler without water and open the windows.
- Allow space between furniture and walls so air can flow, particularly wardrobes.
- Don’t stack boxes or other items against outside walls, especially walls that don’t get a lot of sun.
- Place absorbent beads in affected rooms to soak up extra moisture. You can buy these at the supermarket.
Steps to removing mould
- Obtain personal protective equipment, including half-face disposable respirators with P1 or P2 filters, to avoid inhaling mould spores when cleaning. You’ll find these at hardware stores.
- Place drop sheets on the floor and exclude people from the affected area if they’re not performing the work.
- Get 2 buckets: 1 for cleaning solution and 1 for clean water.
- Wipe the area clean with a microfibre cloth and cleaning solution. Don’t put dirty cloths back in the solution; rinse them in the clean water to avoid cross-contamination.
- After cleaning the area with the solution, wipe the surface with a damp cloth. Don’t use the same cloth you used with the solution.
- Wipe the surface dry with a clean cloth.
Remove mould using a suitable mould remover, such as:
- a solution of 3 parts vinegar and 2 parts water
- a solution of 70% methylated spirits and 30% water
- a solution of tea tree oil and water
- commercial products from the supermarket. Follow the safety instructions to protect your eyes and skin.
- Always use a different cloth with each process and throw them away after, or the mould spores will spread and mould will reappear.
- Don’t dry brush the area with a broom or brush, as this can spread mould.
For more information:
Visit the RTA’s website for more information about who could be responsible for mould.
The REIQ has offered an online disaster tool kitthat included information about mould removal following floods and disasters.
Worksafe Queensland has provided information about the health effects of mould exposure, how to prevent mould growth and how to safely remove it.
House prices are on the rise. Find out the value of your property now.
Get a free online property report from Hicks Real Estate. It takes seconds.