Extreme weather conditions in recent years have caused all sorts of problems in rental homes, mould and condensation being the worst culprits.
They can damage the property and tenants’ possessions, cause health problems and contentious disagreements, especially when landlords take money from tenancy deposits.
TDS adjudicates in disputes over deposits and mould is a growing reason for landlords withholding money from tenants. It can be prevented, or at least limited, by tenant’s habits in keeping moisture in the air to a minimum allowing good ventilation, not drying clothes on the radiator, keeping the temperature constant, and so on.
However when mould and condensation damage occurs, it does not make for a blank cheque from the tenant for redecoration. Landlords must be realistic in the amount they intend to deduct and must be able to provide evidence to justify it. Here is some advice on preventing and preparing for such deposit disputes.
Realistic charges for tenants
Even if the tenant bears responsibility for damage, they are only obliged to return the property in the condition in which they found it, allowing for fair wear and tear. This means it is rarely reasonable to deduct the full cost of redecoration as the tenant will then be paying for improvements to the property. Landlords should provide a breakdown of costs with invoices or quotes, and decide a proportion for the tenant to pay based on the amount of damage caused, the age and condition of the decor at the start, the life expectancy of the decor, and the length of the tenancy. Adjudicators presented with a claim for the full cost of redecoration will reallocate the deposit based on these variables.
Check in and Check Out
A good check in and check out report should be a standard part of every landlord or agent’s routine. They are vital evidence for an adjudicator to see how much the property has deteriorated during the tenancy and to see if any mould or related damage already existed when it started. Tenants need to check these thoroughly and point out any damage not mentioned. Photographs are a useful way to give the adjudicator an indication of the extent of any mould damage and how much repair is needed.
Mid Tenancy Inspections
This is an ideal opportunity to check that your tenant is helping to prevent condensation and if any symptoms are starting to show, especially in winter. Record any evidence that condensation or mould is accumulating and of repairs you carry out, and ensure the tenant is made aware if they should be taking further action.
Expert reports and surveys
These are the most reliable way to identify the cause of damp or mould. In the event of a dispute make sure any professional reports are actually sent to the adjudicator, because making passing references to the content of such a report without the adjudicator being able to see it is not enough.
Prevention is better than dispute
Landlords and agents will be well aware of the causes of damp or mould, but shouldn’t assume their tenants are so knowledgeable. So before anything else, if you are landlord make sure your tenants are provided with clear information about how to prevent it; free guidance is available from local councils and trade associations.. Responsibilities for maintenance should be contained within the tenancy agreement, and make sure tenants know that they could be responsible for damage through inaction.
The landlord wanted to keep the full seven hundred pounds deposit to pay for redecoration because of mould marks. He provided a check in and a check out report to TDS which clearly showed that the damage had occurred during this tenancy. The tenants accepted that the mould marks were present and had agreed to pay for an attempted clean to the affected areas, which turned out to be unsuccessful.
They felt it was unfair that they should pay twice. Once for the attempted clean to and again for the re-decoration. It was clear that just cleaning the affected areas would not have been successful and it was reasonable to award to the landlord redecoration costs. The burning question was – how much?
The landlord produced no evidence in the form of quotes or invoices to give a breakdown of costs. TDS also received no evidence to show the age of the decoration or if the property was newly decorated when the tenants moved in. The check in report did note scuffs and marks to several walls before the tenancy started.
Working with the evidence received, the adjudicator considered the decorative condition of the property at check-in, the length of the tenancy and the expected lifespan of any normal decoration. Three hundred pounds was awarded to the landlord.
The adjudicator felt the amount to be a fair contribution towards the landlord’s claim; the outcome could have been different he had provided more detailed evidence.
If you are a landlord, remember: