I’m moving into a student flat this year. It’s a Georgian property (but not a fancy or well-kept one) so the windows are pretty awful. My room is the only one on the side of the property and I had very bad damp and mould problems when I moved in. The letting agents have treated the wall, but the damp is swiftly returning.
They sent me away with promises they’ll do another assessment and give me a humidifier. They told me I’ll just have to air the room and keep my windows open as the damp is no longer making the room “uninhabitable.”
Firstly, the windows might as well be open even when they’re closed because the gaps between them are massive. Secondly, that’s well and good while it’s warm, but I can’t sit with the windows open when it’s minus two degrees. Thirdly, if the damp returned when it’s been dry – what will happen when it starts to rain?!
Do you have any tips for how I can make the agents take this issue more seriously? Or how I can slow the damp without keeping my windows open when it’s freezing?
FFS. I’m sorry. You must feel so frustrated. I am here for you. Summer is over (sorry) so your situation is really quite serious. You absolutely cannot sit around – let alone sleep – in a room where there is damp and the windows don’t close properly in the winter. You’re going to end up with consumption because these conditions are Victorian.
Trust me when I say that your landlord and your letting agent both know that they have a duty to sort things out. Sadly, I fear they are less than reputable because most decent property owners do not want assets that are, quite literally, falling apart.
Bad housing makes us sick and your situation is no joke. We know that poor housing causes mental health issues, but that’s not all. A cutting-edge study from the University of Essex recently found that renters have higher levels of a biological marker known as C-reactive protein (CRP) than homeowners. CRP is found at higher levels in blood in response to stress, injury and infection and it can be an indicator of heart disease or chronic inflammatory conditions such as IBS or arthritis.
And, all this is before we even get started on damp and mould.
So, what can you do? This all depends on when your tenancy started. In March, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into force and gave renters much-needed protections against this sort of thing. Under the Act, landlords can now be taken to court over 29 hazards including inadequate ventilation and serious mould and damp caused by structural problems. However, if you signed a tenancy before the 20th of March this year, this new legislation doesn’t apply to you just yet. Don’t lose hope, though. It will apply to all tenancies – even those signed before that date – from the 20th of March next year.
You say you’re only living in this flat for a year. I get that your time is precious so continue to complain, try to get it sorted out but, equally, if you have the means to move I would think very seriously about whether it’s worth risking your health to live here. If you have no other options, send your agency a stern email citing your rights and keep records of everything. Take pictures and file all of your correspondence into a folder in case you need it further down the line.
If you continue to get nowhere with your agent, you can go directly to the council’s private renting team. They may carry out what’s known as an HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System) assessment which could lead to them compelling your landlord to act.
I’m afraid you will need to err on the side of caution here. Unfortunately, while the previous Government promised to end Section 21 evictions (also known as no fault evictions), Brexit has all but scuppered any progress on that front.
It’s a shameful fact that people who ask for repairs are, sometimes, subjected to an illegal revenge eviction by lazy landlords who can’t be arsed to do any work but, until Section 21 is gone, that is, maddeningly, a risk run by anyone who complains.
What can people realistically charge you for after you've moved out? In my time I have been fleeced (or experienced an attempted fleecing) for cobwebs sighted in windows two weeks after moving out, ancient grime on light switches and not using a chainsaw to cut down a tree that had been growing outside the property since before we moved in. Read me my rights!
While the entire country avoids Brexit by hating on Caroline Calloway, an inconsequential baby influencer who has become the scapegoat for an entire generation, the housing crisis rages and the true scammers remain overlooked.
I’m going to answer your question with some good and some bad news in just a moment but, first, I want to ask a more philosophical one of my own. Why does money turn us into monsters?
Landlords are mostly normal people, not the faceless international plutocrat bogeymen we imagine. They’re our neighbours – Sally and Rob who your parents talk to in the pub. They’re our friends – the ones whose parents bought them a two-bed so they could rent out a room to you.
The ability to make money out of providing people with a basic human right – a home – sees us ripping each other off daily in the name of late capitalism. Just. Because. We. Can.
Otherwise reasonable people who love their dogs skimp on boiler repairs, putting not just their tenants but their tenants’ safety into jeopardy – all because it eats into their profit margins. Parents who go out of their way to teach their kids right from wrong forge dodgy receipts for nonexistent breakages so that they can collect the maximum in fake damages when their tenants move out. Which brings me back to you.
Let’s scroll back for a second. You’ve been fleeced. More than once. You know it will happen again, as sure as it will rain again. It’s just a question of when. I should know. When I moved out of my last flat, the landlord tried to take me for everything I had paid as a deposit and then some.
The good news is that you do have rights. By law, your deposit must be placed into a protection scheme, through which you can dispute any unfair deductions via an official redress scheme. You can apply to your local county court if your landlord has not placed your deposit in one of these schemes.
The bad news? Sadly, a lot of landlords do seem to see deposit deductions as an extra revenue scheme. A side hustle, if you will. I am 100 percent certain that the guy who took almost my entire deposit and asked for more used my money to repaint the flat for his next tenant.
He said that I had trashed the flat. I had not. He claimed that I had a cat which I had not told him about. I did not. He said I had broken the sink. It was fine.
In theory, a landlord can only reasonably charge you for things you have actually damaged because domestic tenancies must allow for what is known as “fair wear and tear”. This means changes caused by what Shelter calls “normal day to day living”, so your landlord should absolutely not be charging you for cobwebs and ancient grime. They also shouldn’t be trying it on for faded curtains, small scuffs on the walls or worn carpets. However, they do.
My deposit was protected so when a senior staff member at the high-profile letting agency involved told me I was “causing trouble” by complaining, I disputed every single slimy spurious claim via the Property Ombudsman’s redress scheme. I was confident I would win my dispute. I had pictures of everything and I had contacted previous tenants with whom he’d tried the same trick for written statements.
Things are slightly better now because of the letting fee ban that brought in a deposit cap of five weeks rent. But I think deposit protection needs to be reinforced to protect renters from unscrupulous landlords and letting agents.
You have rights but, sadly, as is so often the case with renting they aren’t always enforced. In the end, you might decide that taking further action is going to cost you more time and money than you face losing. This is how they get away with it.
So know your rights and always ask for permission before removing anything from the property, putting up a picture or painting a wall. Take pictures of everything, too – not just when you move in but throughout your tenancy. And I literally mean everything because, reader, I only got half of my deposit back.