What can I do about mould?
What is mould?
Mould is caused by a fungus which likes to grow cold, dark and damp conditions, particularly in areas which are poorly ventilated or not adequately heated in winter. Mould often appears on surfaces in your home like walls, ceilings and carpets. It might look like a stain, smudge or discoloration. The most common moulds are black, green or white but they can be many other colours.
Where is mould commonly found?
You will often find mould in wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundries; other areas of the property that don’t get a lot of sunlight or areas that aren’t well insulated like bedrooms, corners and cupboards. Leaking pipes, gutters and poor drainage can also cause mould.
You may also find mould on walls and around windows that are exposed to hot indoor air and cold outdoor air - these conditions can cause condensation to form. Many tenants experience problems with mould in Canberra, due in part to our very cold winters and generally poor quality properties as well as factors such as inadequate heating, limited window coverings, poor ventilation (particularly in bathrooms) and little or no insulation in walls, ceilings and floors.
Living in a property affected by mould can trigger nasal congestion, sneezing, cough, wheeze, respiratory infections and worsen asthma and allergic conditions. If you think you are suffering health problems as a result of mould see a doctor as soon as possible. You may also want to request a referral to an allergy specialist who can test to see if you are allergic to mould.
Your rights and obligations
The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (“RTA”) sets out the Standard Residential Tenancy Terms (“SRTT”) which apply to all tenancy arrangements in the ACT regardless of whether they are included in your written agreement or not. The SRTT give you and your landlord certain rights and obligations.
To have a property that is fit to live in, reasonably clean and in a reasonable state of repair [cl 54]
To have repairs done in a timely manner [cl 57, 59]
What you should do:
- To take reasonable care of your property and keep it reasonably clean [cl 63],
- Report any damage and need for repairs to the lessor as soon as possible [cl 63, 55]
- When you leave you must leave the premises in substantially the same state of cleanliness and condition, except for any fair wear and tear[cl 64]
Your landlord’s obligations:
- To provide the premises in a reasonable state when you start to live there, including that it be fit for habitation, reasonably clean and in a reasonable state of repair. [cl 54]
- To maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair throughout the tenancy having regard to the condition it was in when you started to live there.
- To make non-urgent repairs within 4 weeks and urgent repairs as soon as necessary with regard to the nature of the problem. [cl 57, 59]
You and your landlord both have responsibility when it comes to preventing and dealing with mould. You can take steps to prevent mould from occurring and spreading if it is reasonable for you to do so or if the mould was caused by you. For example if there is an extractor fan in the bathroom, you should use it when showering. You can also make attempts to clean mould off walls/surfaces if you think it is safe to do so. (see below for more information on cleaning mould and safety)
However your landlord also has an obligation to ensure that the property is not in a state that would allow mould to grow, that the causes of any mould are dealt with quickly and any damage cause by mould is repaired as soon as possible. This would be the case where the cause of the mould is something you as a tenant cannot control such as a structural problem. Examples of this would be where your property has rising damp, or there is no extractor fan in the bathroom.
Preventing and dealing with mould…
What you can do
Before you move in
There are many things to consider before you move into a new property but if you’re concerned about mould some particular things to consider are:
Is the property insulated?
What type of heating (and air-conditioning) is there? Does it work? What rooms are heated? Is it affordable?
If there’s no heating will it be easy/affordable to heat using appliances?
Is there an extractor fan over the stove and in the bathroom?
Are there signs of leaking near sinks, toilet, taps?
Are there adequate blinds/curtains?
You can request that mould issues be dealt with before you move in. If you make an agreement with your landlord about repairs necessary at beginning of tenancy you should put in writing, ensure it is signed by both parties and included in your tenancy agreement.
After you have moved in
Your landlord/agent should provide you with a condition report no later than the day after you have the keys and move in. You should carefully inspect the whole property particularly any potential problem areas such as the kitchen, bathroom and laundry (especially cupboards and wet areas), note any potential causes of or presence of mould on the condition report.
What to do when mould appears
The easiest way to deal with mould is to try and prevent it forming in the first place, if it is reasonable for you to do so.
Some simple ideas include:
use the extractor fan when cooking, showering and doing laundry
leave your curtains/blinds open if the property gets some sunlight during the day
ensure that you use your heating as efficiently as possible, by closing curtains/blinds at night
Drying your clothing outside if possible and don’t put them away until completely dry
if you notice condensation forming on walls or the ceiling, wipe it down, dry the area thoroughly
open a window or door (if the weather is appropriate),
leave the internal doors open to allow air circulation through the property
If mould is already present you should try to:
remove all your furniture and other items away from the area if you can e.g. take clothes out of cupboards/drawers, pull furniture away from walls to allow the air to circulate
Dispose of any items affected by mould immediately or carefully clean and dry them (see below for details on cleaning)
Remove/clean mould from affected areas yourself if it is reasonable for you to do so.
Cleaning mould can potentially be dangerous to your health. If you are concerned you should wear protective clothing and a mask. If the mould is continually reoccurring you may need to get a professional assessment of what is causing the mould.
If you are going to clean mould yourself do not dry brush the area as this may release mould spores into the air which can spread throughout the property. Areas affected by mould should be washed down with a solution of 20% water and 80% white vinegar (best used from a spray bottle). Clove oil has also been effective in controlling mould – however it is very potent so only use about half a 1 teaspoon of oil to 1 litre of water. You should avoid using bleach as it has a high pH which is ineffective in killing mould (bleach only whitens the mould spores instead of killing them).
When cleaning walls/surfaces a “two-bucket” approach is most efficient: use one bucket for rinse water and the other for the water/vinegar solution. Rinse out your sponge, mop, or cleaning cloth in the rinse bucket. Wring it as dry as possible and keep it rolled up tight as you put it in the cleaner bucket. Using two buckets keeps most of the dirty rinse water out of your cleaning solution. Replace the rinse water frequently.
If carpets, soft furnishings and other absorbent items are mould affected you may need to have them professionally cleaned. In some cases you need to discard or replace such items. You should keep records of any items affected by mould (i.e. photos) as you may be able to claim compensation if the item was affected by a mould issue that the landlord had a responsibility to remedy.
(The above guidance on how to avoid and clean mould is taken from the Victorian Government Health Information website accessible here and the ACT Housing “Mould and Condensation” factsheet available here)
If you want to make alterations to the property to deal with mould issues…
Clause 67 of the SRTT state that you can only make alterations or additions to the property with the landlord’s written consent. Clause 68 states that the landlord cannot unreasonably withhold consent for alterations or additions. If you leave the fixtures or fittings at the property when you leave, they become the landlord’s property. You should make a written agreement about any alterations or additions to the property, make it very clear about the agreed changes and include details about when and how items can be removed.
What your landlord should do:
If despite your best efforts, the mould continues to appear or becomes worse you can ask your landlord to do maintenance or repairs. What your landlord should do:
Maintain existing heating systems, extractor fans, fittings/fixtures such as taps
Repair any damage caused by mould to walls, ceilings, cupboards and any other affected parts of the property
Ensure the property as sufficient barriers to rising damp.
Ensure proper drainage so water doesn’t build up around the property, for example after it rains
Some practical things you can suggest to the landlord might include:
Using gloss or anti-mould paint on walls can help to prevent mould and makes it easier to clean
Window locks or security screens may be appropriate if you want to be able to air out the property more regularly.
Installing efficient and effective heating systems
Installing adequate insulation
Ensuring adequate ventilation by installing extractor fans in bathrooms, kitchens, laundries
If your landlord doesn’t address the mould issue or make necessary repairs
The landlord/agent must make urgent repairs as soon as necessary depending on what the problem is [cl 59] and non-urgent repairs within 4 weeks. If they don’t you can serve a Notice to Remedy giving the landlord 2 weeks to remedy the problem. You can also apply to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) for orders:
requiring the landlord to make the repairs,
for compensation for any losses you incurred as a result of the landlords failure to do repairs including for example the costs of cleaning equipment or costs associated with having clothes dry-cleaned if they were affected by mould,
reimbursing you for costs you incurred in doing repairs, or
reducing the rent payable for the period while the repairs were outstanding.
For more information on repairs and what you can do if your landlord doesn’t agree to make them see the “Repairs” Factsheet. If you are considering applying to ACAT see our “Tribunal (ACAT) General Information” Factsheet. If you want to leave see the “Ending a Tenancy and Breaking a Lease” fact sheet – note that you will have to have grounds for leaving and for having the tenancy terminated and this can include severe mould issues causing the house to be uninhabitable, severe damage to the property as a result of the presence of mould, health issues arising from presence of mould. If you think this may be your case you can call the Tenants Advice Service for further advice.