*This article was updated in January 2020
The arrival of warmer weather brings outdoor living, fun in the sun, BBQs, holidays… and mould. And if the dreaded fungus raises its spores, there’s likely to be some confusion about who is responsible for getting rid of it. Let us talk you through it.
Mould... It can be a good thing when it’s on your fancy imported cheese, but a very bad thing if it’s in a rental property. Although mould is a year-round problem in tropical environments, summer can provide ideal growing conditions as heat, humidity and storm season arrive.
Before the spores grow this summer, here’s a quick run-down on what mould is, why you don’t want it in your rental, what causes it, how to identify it, who is responsible for getting rid of it and how to go about it.
What is mould?
Mould and mildew are living organisms known as fungi. Mould thrives on moisture and can grow in homes when conditions are damp, dark and poorly ventilated. Common places for mould include bathrooms, kitchens, cluttered storage areas, wall and roof spaces, under carpets, in ventilation/air-con ducts or behind furniture. Mould can spread from one surface to another by contact or it can be air-borne.
What’s the problem with mould?
More than being unsightly, mould can cause serious problems. When it dries out or is disturbed, mould releases spores which can cause illness in some people or exacerbate existing health issues like asthma, respiratory infections, skin irritations or itchy eyes.
Mould can also cause odours and damage to building materials, contents and structures. If left untreated, it can grow into plaster, ceiling cavities, behind walls, in and behind gyprock and under carpets and floorboards – potentially causing structural damage.
What causes mould?
Mould is present virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors, and can grow in and on materials such as food, furniture, fabrics, carpets, walls, paper, timber and plumbing. It grows best in damp, poorly ventilated areas with limited or no sunlight, and reproduces by making spores.
The cause of mould and mildew in a rental could stem from maintenance issues or from the action or inaction of tenants – which means fixing the problem could rest with either landlord/agent or with the tenants.
How do I identify mould?
In many cases it will be obvious that mould is present. Mould has a musty odour and presents as green, grey, brown or black spots and clusters. You can usually spot the most visible type of mould, called mildew, which begins as tiny (usually black) spots but often grows into larger colonies. It’s the black stuff you see in the grout lines in your shower, on damp walls, and outdoors on the surfaces of decking boards and painted siding, especially in damp and shady areas.
However, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish whether a surface has mould spores, or if it’s just dirty. To test for mould and mildew, put a few drops of household bleach on the blackened area. If it lightens after one to two minutes, you have mildew. If the area remains dark, you probably have dirt.
Who’s responsible for getting rid of mould at a rental?
Although the RTAs across the country generally make no specific reference to mould, both landlord/agent and tenant have responsibilities for general upkeep and conditions that apply to mould.
As a landlord/agent you are required to keep the property in a reasonable state of repair, meet building, health and safety requirements, and ensure all repairs are undertaken within a reasonable timeframe. You could be in breach of the tenancy agreement if you don’t fulfil these obligations, for example failing to get plumbing issues fixed, not repairing a leaky roof or not fixing broken exhaust fans.
So when it comes to responsibility for mould, it is yours if the outbreak is caused by structural issues, or stems from a lack of maintenance or repair such as:
• a leak in the roof
• a faulty pipe
• malfunctioning gutters causing overflow into the property
• surface water leaking into the building
• wet building foundations such as rising damp
• indoor plumbing leaks
A tenant may be able to seek compensation from you if mould damages their personal property and you have failed to take reasonable steps.
Nip it in the spore: Keeping on top of maintenance and repairs can help stave off mould outbreaks. Landlords and agents should keep an eye out for potential problems during inspections and encourage tenants to immediately report any dampness, windows that don’t close properly or leaks – and respond immediately.
Tenants are responsible for keeping the rental property in a reasonable state of cleanliness, not intentionally or negligently causing or permitting damage, and informing landlord or agent of any damage as soon as possible. If the tenant has caused the underlying problem that led to mould developing, or hasn’t informed the landlord or agent of an issue with the property, they could be held responsible for mould damage and may have to compensate you.
Your tenant could be responsible for cleaning up outbreaks if their actions resulted in mould forming. For example:
• by showering without switching on the exhaust fan or opening a window
• leaving pools of water on tiles
• cooking without turning on the extractor fan
• using a drier without ventilation or drying clothes indoors and not airing the room afterwards
• failing to properly clean up indoor liquid spills
• getting the carpet wet and neglecting to properly dry it out
• not cleaning the home properly
Nip it in the spore: Landlords and agents should remind tenants of the need to adequately ventilate the property – air the home by opening doors and windows (but remain security conscious), use exhaust fans in bathrooms when showering and for 30 mins afterwards, open a window when the clothes drier is on and use the extractor fan over the stove.
How to do I get rid of mould?
If the mould is widespread (over one square metre) or identified within structures, a specialist cleaner will need to be engaged to sort out the problem.
You or your tenant should only attempt to clean up minor outbreaks of surface mould, for example if it is in a cupboard or wardrobe. Landlords and agents are cautioned not to ask tenants to undertake any cleaning that could pose health or safety risks, for example that requires the use of a ladder or harsh chemicals (such as bleach). This cleaning should be contracted out to professionals who are licensed/certified and insured.
Tips for dealing with minor mould outbreaks on non-porous* surfaces:
• Wear rubber gloves, safety goggles and a face mask
• Only use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter to extract mould (vacuums without these filters disperse the spores into the air)
• Make sure the room is well ventilated, but without a lot of air movement that will blow the spores into other areas of the home
• Don’t dry-brush or wipe mould with a dry cloth, use a damp cloth
• Bleach (only effective for surface mould), borax, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, detergent, baking soda, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, or oil of cloves can all be used to clean mould (though any essential oils may stain)
• Anti-bacterial sprays that contain 60 per cent alcohol, or anti-bacterial wipes that are treated with a disinfectant can also be used
• Vinegar is one of the cheapest, safest and most effective cleaners (to prevent mould growing on surfaces, spray neat vinegar on the surface and leave it, and repeat every few days; vinegar can also be used to mop tiled and other non-porous floors)
*For super-porous materials like clothing, bedding or other soft fabric articles like soft toys, wash them in a washing machine on a hot cycle. Alternatively, mix one kilogram of uniodised salt in a nine-litre bucket of water, paint over the item, leave until a salt crust forms then wipe off with a soft brush. Other contaminated soft furnishings that cannot be put in a washing machine will have to be cleaned professionally. If this is not possible, they may need to be thrown out. Success in cleaning semi-porous surfaces will be variable.
A word about insurance and mould
At EBM RentCover we deliver certainty by being open, honest and transparent. As mould growth is frequently unavoidable and because it usually doesn’t cause any damage if it is taken care of quickly, we do not offer cover for mould damage.
Damage caused by mould/mildew/fungus/algae is a standard exclusion in most building and contents policies in Australia. This means that if there is an outbreak at the rental, neither landlord nor tenant is likely to be able to claim on their insurance for any damage caused.
Ultimately, the cost for cleaning, repair or replacement will rest with the party (landlord or tenant) responsible for the presence of mould at the property in the first place. So it pays for landlords, agents and tenants to keep on top of maintenance, repairs, cleaning and ventilation to stop the formation and spread of mould at the property.
*While we have taken care to ensure the information above is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances and legislation after the displayed date may impact the accuracy of this article. If you need us we are there, contact 1800 954 374 if you have any questions.
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