Mould/witholding rent/C19 eviction rights

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    Mould/witholding rent/C19 eviction rights

    I wonder if I could trouble someone for advice, having recently become a Landlord for the first time ?


    BACKGROUND
    A year ago I inherited a small 1970s one bedroom flat in Birmingham.


    The flat was originally heated with a couple of electric bar heaters.

    Coincidentally at the time of my inheriting the original tenant moved out so we took the opportunity to completely refurbish including adding a new boiler & central heating, redecorating and in part replastering. The builder/decorator found zero evidence of damp whilst completing this work.

    Our new tenants and their dog moved in last summer but in January (ie pre virus) started complaining about mould on their possessions?

    The builder/decorator returned post complaint & again found no evidence of structural damp.


    We were and still are convinced that the mould is caused by condensation & not structural damp, caused by the tenants failure to properly open windows both in general but also when performing specific tasks ie cooking, bathing etc.

    However as an act of good will & without prejudice we provided a dehumidifier at our own expense.

    Whilst this significantly improved matters, the mould continued and in January the tenant started to withhold rent in lieu of compensation for the damaged items.

    Last month we agreed to arrange a full independent damp survey, stating that we would consider any request for compensation subject to the survey confirming a structural damp issue. We also stated that withholding rent is against the terms of the rental agreement and that all outstanding rent, now 5 months worth, must be paid immediately.

    As at today the tenants, both of whom are (still) working have failed to contact our chosen surveyor and the 5 months rent remains outstanding.

    During the middle of this, the country entered lockdown and the government precluded landlords from evicting tenants during this period.

    The lease expires in June & in ordinary circumstances we would have served the tenants notice.

    QUESTIONS IN MY IGNORANCE PLEASE:
    1) Reflecting the tenant started withholding rent before virus & that this was for compensation rather than affordability, under new government regulations are we still precluded from evicting due to refusal to pay any rent?

    2) As above are we also precluded from serving advance notice of terminating the lease ?

    3) Given the circumstances is a tenant legally able to withhold rent ?

    4) As a landlord do we have any rights at all here, or are we obliged to allow the tenant to remain in the flat indefinitely, without paying any rent, until the government changes the regulations ?

    Sorry if these may be basic questions but as a new landlord, any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    #2
    Serve the notices. Act on the s21 if you can. Gather all your evidence from above, including witness statements and be prepared for a battle in court at some point. Creating mould through excess condensation is the easiest way for a tenant to get away with months of rent-free accommodation, as many landlords dont get their case in order before they get to court. Hard to say if that's what's going on here, but it's quite possible. Dont forget to do a money claim for the rent afterwards.

    Comment


      #3
      Use a section 21 and get rid of them as soon as you can. Mould is often a lifestyle thing. Curtains drawn all the time. in bed all day. Windows never opened. A section 8 for arrears is risky as they have a right to argue in court . They will tie it to covid 19. You will be the 'terrible landlord' that did nothing about the problem. 9 times out of 10 the judge sides with the tenant. Section 21. Make sure you write to them that you will take them to court if they dont leave by the due date and that they will then have a ccj for an eviction, Hopefully they will just leave!

      Comment


        #4
        1 - You can serve notice and start the process of evicting your tenant. As you are unsure of what to do, I would suggest a professional service be used. Specialists advertise in this site's directory section. It is usually better to allow them to carry out the complete process rather than serve notice(s) - which can easily be invalid - yourself.

        2 - You can only start the process of terminating the lease with notice. It will simply become a periodic tenancy if the lease ends otherwise.

        3 - No. As an alternative to notice, which has a significant delay, you could simply sue the tenant for the unpaid rent using the small claims process.

        4 - The delay is to prevent people from being made homeless during a pandemic. It is a delay (currently three months) not an indefinite thing.

        While the most likely cause of mould is lifestyle, it's also unreasonable to expect tenants to open windows to keep the property free of damp.
        Tenants won't do that when it's cold or raining, and possibly not at other times.
        You're basically telling someone who wants to have a shower that they have to do so in a cold bathroom.

        You need to make sure that the property is properly ventilated, so the tenant has a reasonable chance.
        When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
        Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

        Comment


          #5
          With 5+ months rent o/s, your priority should be to get them out asap.

          With all due respect, I do not think you are equipped to take it forward in a manner that will give you what you need within a reasonable period. I would also recommend that you instruct a professional to carry out an eviction right from step 1.

          At this stage, the damp is a side-issue and I would suggest that you focus on getting them out.

          Good luck!

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by LandlordJ View Post
            At this stage, the damp is a side-issue and I would suggest that you focus on getting them out.
            The damp is unlikely to be a side issue if the op has to use s8 for the eviction.

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
              You're basically telling someone who wants to have a shower that they have to do so in a cold bathroom.
              No, you are telling them that they need to take reasonable steps such as removing excess water and ventilating the bathroom after showering.
              And, maybe, treating hte mould when it appears.

              In my shower room:
              1. I use a "squeegee" to remove most water from walls, screen, and shower tray (I was amazed at first how much clings to the walls and screen).
              2. I have a humidistat extractor fan.
              3. I open the window after showering
              And I still get some mould in the corners that I have to treat.

              Mould spores are everywhere, and residents have to take some responsibility to prevent mould growing in areas that are damp through their actions.

              Comment


                #8
                the tenants failure to properly open windows both in general but also when performing specific tasks ie cooking, bathing etc.
                Yes, the tenants have to take reasonable steps.

                But the OP didn't mention fans or ventilation and did mention opening the windows "when" bathing or cooking.
                When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
                Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

                Comment


                  #9
                  Thankyou so much for all the replies & insightful comments.

                  Re JPKEATES feedback, yes we have put a new extractor fan in the bathroom. We have advised them re keeping windows open and also sent several links re advice to flat based tenants to mitigate condensation.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by Borischelski View Post
                    Re JPKEATES feedback, yes we have put a new extractor fan in the bathroom. We have advised them re keeping windows open and also sent several links re advice to flat based tenants to mitigate condensation.
                    If there's mould in the property it almost has to come from condensation inside.
                    The (alkaline) lime in the plaster and the acid in the mortar mean that water coming from outside doesn't usually allow mould to develop.

                    Mould forms when water that condenses on the surface is left there.

                    Usually, the issue is that the tenant's lifestyle seems completely reasonable to them and doesn't suit the property.
                    People shower more than they used to and no one expects to hang washing outside in winter, and houses and flats weren't designed like that.

                    My son and his girlfriend have issues with damp which are entirely lifestyle based, but nothing they do is odd.
                    It's just not what their 90's build property was designed to handle.
                    It's an issue in the winter and from March to September it usually isn't a problem.

                    But, if you're a landlord you have to provide housing that normal people can use.
                    And, normal people, aren't like property owners, who work out their home and adjust.
                    People who rent just expect the property to function.
                    You have to adapt to meet your customer's needs - even if it's a complete pain.

                    Or deal with unhappy tenants, high turnover and a lot of decorating.
                    When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
                    Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

                    Comment


                      #11
                      I wonder if I could ask a follow up question re my Birmingham flat?

                      First of all we intend to follow the kind advice here to serve a notice on section 21 and appoint a solicitor to get the tenant out asap.

                      Meantime & to avoid future problems with a new tenant , today I arranged an independent survey and the report states no evidence of structural damp anywhere in the premises. The surveyor did not discuss findings with the tenant.


                      The windows open to an adequate extent and also have vents.

                      The tenant inevitably “claims” to regularly open the windows and vents and maintain all rooms at not less than the recommended (to mitigate compensation) 18.C

                      However the report did state that the two most likely rooms to cause condensation are the bathroom and the kitchen.

                      1) “Within the bathroom the extract fan was tested during the inspection. The fan falls below the minimum benchmark performance of 15l/s for bathroom extract fans.
                      The fan when tested during the inspection was 7.7 l/s“

                      2) There is no fan in the kitchen which includes a washing machine (which we provided.)

                      3) The worst condensation is in the small bedroom where the couple and the dog all sleep. There is no extractor fan in the bedroom.

                      My questions are, if we provide adequate opening windows and vents, as a landlord:
                      - Am I also obliged to provide extractor fans in those rooms that will create the most vapour? Including a bedroom?
                      - If so are they required to be of a benchmark performance level ?
                      - In terms of any claims for compensation to damaged goods, through failure to provide sufficient/appropriate fans, could I be obliged to pay compensation for damaged possessions

                      Again any advice would be massively appreciated?

                      Comment


                        #12
                        In order to protect your investment and the condition of your property it might be prudent to fit a better extractor fan in the bathroom.
                        Do you supply a tumble dryer? If not it would be a good idea.

                        During inspections is there any wet washing left on airers?

                        Re the compensation question that would depend on the evidence available to support a claim. Do you think on the balance of probability that they have a good claim?

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by Borischelski View Post
                          My questions are, if we provide adequate opening windows and vents, as a landlord:
                          Am I also obliged to provide extractor fans in those rooms that will create the most vapour? Including a bedroom?
                          Not legally obliged, unless the local authority make some kind of safety related assessment and serve notice on you.
                          But as a common sense thing, yes.

                          If someone's normal use of the property causes issues with damp, the property isn't suitable for use as a rental property.
                          If someone lived there as a resident, they'd probably work round / live with issues so as not to damage their own asset, tenants don't have the same incentive and can't be expected to act in the same way.

                          - If so are they required to be of a benchmark performance level ?
                          There's a general duty of care issue, but there's nothing specific that says fans have to operate as specified.
                          But, again, common sense says that a fan that doesn't do the job isn't helping anyone.


                          - In terms of any claims for compensation to damaged goods, through failure to provide sufficient/appropriate fans, could I be obliged to pay compensation for damaged possessions
                          You could be.
                          It would be hard for them to show it wasn't lifestyle related and it would have to be more likely that it wasn't for them to have any chance of success.
                          When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
                          Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

                          Comment


                            #14
                            I'm not surprised that there is heavy condensation in a small room in which two adults and a dog are breathing for probably 8 or 9 hours a day with the door closed and at a time when the heating is probably off. This room probably needs a dehumidifier running at night. Whether that's down to you or them to buy probably depends on a number of factors.

                            Comment

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