Life

Life For Rent: Is Your Landlord Responsible for Fixing Mould in Your Flat?

Housing journalist Vicky Spratt is here to answer all your burning, rental-based questions in our new advice column Life For Rent.
18 July 2019, 10:40am
Life For Rent housing advice column by Vicky Spratt
A housing advice column for all your renting problems from VICE UK columnist Vicky Spratt. Got a burning question? Email lifeforrent@vice.com.

My whole flat is covered in mould. The bathroom ceiling. The window sills. The bedroom walls. I probably have spores growing inside of me right now, as I type this, but unfortunately I can’t move out because I’m in debt. I’ve approached my landlord about getting rid of the mould, but he says that because some of the building is owned by the council, there’s nothing he can do about it, even though he owns the flat itself. Is this true? What can I do? Trying to manually scrub it is simply not enough.

I’ll get to your landlord, who is completely fobbing you off BTW, in a second but first let’s address your debt.

You don’t say how bad it is but it’s enough to stop you moving, so I’m guessing it’s the sort of debt that wakes you up at night and causes you to unconsciously pick your cuticles until they’re red raw.

I know from experience what it’s like to feel trapped in a financial prison of your own making, so I hope being able to take affordable action on your shoddy living conditions will make you feel, at least, a little bit in control of your life again.

First up, let’s deal with your landlord. He is either lying or ignorant. In March this year, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into force giving 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. So, be in no doubt, this is your landlord’s problem and he has to fix it. If he doesn’t, he is, quite literally, breaking the law.

If you don’t get anywhere with him directly, you can go directly to the council’s environmental health team and ask them to carry out what’s known as an HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System) assessment.

I’m afraid you will need to err on the side of caution here, though. Only you know whether or not you have a good relationship with your landlord and how best to approach him. Unfortunately, while the Government has promised to end Section 21 evictions (also known as ‘No Fault’ evictions) there’s a long way to go before the law changes. 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 anyone who complains runs.

While you decide how to approach this, you need to keep cleaning because mould can make you seriously unwell.

Let’s be clear, I’m no Hincher. In fact, I’m loathed to advocate following anyone who encourages young women to idolise housework and thinks you can Hinch Yourself Happy by spending your spare time scrubbing signs of life away from your home.

But *whisper it* her Facebook page is truly a goldmine of cleaning tips tried and tested by her cleaning crazy fans. One of which – a mould and mildew spray called Astonish which is available at Poundland and on a website called The Range far more cheaply than it is on Amazon – is going to help you. Stockpile it now. It works, I used it myself when I was living in a flat so mouldy that I had a chest infection for over a month and ended up being prescribed an inhaler even though I… wait for it… am not asthmatic.

I know you feel trapped and you’re worried about what the mould is doing to your body, so please keep an eye on your mental health too. Bad housing makes us sick in more ways than one.

I’ve been having problems with my flatmates and I’m keen to move out ASAP. I've only been there for eight months and I have not signed a contract with my landlord. I know my deposit isn’t in a deposit protection scheme – the landlord said it would be easier if I paid the deposit to the flatmate who was leaving and giving me their room.

My flatmates are generally trash but the nail in the coffin: one of them has a substance problem and has woken me up by standing over my bed and asking for a dealer's number. He came into my room another night at around 3AM and rubbed my body to try to get me to wake up. It was very creepy and left me feeling unsafe.

The same flatmate tried to refuse to give me the landlord's details, saying that the landlord only responds to him because he's the lead tenant. I managed to find the landlord’s email and asked if I can get a lock put on the door without losing my deposit. He said that I can, but he also hasn't provided a deposit protection scheme reference and still no contract.

How do I get out of the flat quickly and make sure that I get my deposit back?

Oh dear. I’m sorry to hear that your flatmate is what I can only describe as trash. Before I get to the nuts and bolts of your situation, I need to ask a more existential question: how did you get yourself into this mess?

You live in London, a city in which finding somewhere to live quickly becomes the Hunger Games, so I know that decisions about who to live with happen under pressure. So often these days houseshares aren’t anything like the ones we grew up watching in Friends – chosen families of BFFs who are there for each other no matter what.

As we grow older and the people we love pair off, shacking up together and/or are bought houses by their secretly minted parents, we’re left to find our own way and, often, that means totally incompatible combinations of near-strangers together under one roof, sharing a loo and hearing each other fuck.

Home is where you go at the end of the night after realising that you’re surrounded by wide-eyed zombies, not somewhere you want to encounter more of them. It is a truth universally acknowledged that afterparties are only fun when they’re at someone else’s house.

Perhaps you had an inkling, a tingle in your gut nagging at you, telling you not to move in with this person. Perhaps you suspected that your flatmate had a ‘substance problem’ before you woke up to them clench-jawed and standing over you. Perhaps you had to ignore your intuition because this place was all you could afford. Or, perhaps you’ve been genuinely blindsided by this terrible behaviour.

Either way, you need to get out. Choosing flatmates is as (if not more) important than choosing a partner. In the future, I beg you, trust your gut. Be more discerning about who you live with. Realise that home needs to be a sanctuary, not somewhere you feel so under siege that you’re borrowing a more grown-up pal’s power drill to put a lock on your door.

Not everyone has the means to leave an abusive or unsafe home, but you do. You don’t need to be a wellness dick to prioritise your wellbeing. Find flatmates who you wouldn’t go on a night out with or, even, want to be mates with but who will clean, be transparent about money and, above all, respect your space.

Now, onto getting you out of this hellhole. I’m not going to sugar coat this – you’re in a bind and it was totally avoidable, but all is not lost.

Never move into somewhere without signing a contract. Ever. This was a huge indicator that your flatmate was a disaster from the off. Fortunately, though it’s not ideal, the verbal agreement which you effectively have with your landlord is still regulated by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

So, the good news is that you’re still protected with the same rights you would have had if you had signed an agreement for as long as you stay there. The bad news is your deposit is not.

Always, and I really can’t emphasise this enough, always insist on proof of a deposit protection scheme you once you’ve paid. I know it’s messy when you’re dealing with someone who is already living in a place but this is renting 101. It is a legal requirement for all landlords to protect their tenants’ deposits using a Government-approved deposit protection scheme.

You could go nuclear, leave and try to take your landlord to court. Or, you could try some diplomacy to extract your money. Play nice, tell them you’re leaving and that you’ll help find someone to replace you. Get your deposit, leave on good terms and never look back.

You’re looking to move ASAP which is positive. The silver lining is that it’s good timing. The Tenant Fees Act has just become law. It means that you will no longer have to pay admin fees and caps deposits at five weeks’ rent so you’re going to need a lot less cash up front than you would have last month. Perhaps it’s… a sign? This is an opportunity to move – not only literally but metaphorically – into a new phase of your life.

@Victoria_Spratt