Exposure to mould can cause throat, eye and nose irritations, respiratory complaints or allergic reactions in
some people. The most vulnerable people to mould related illnesses are infants, young children, the
elderly, immunodepressed individuals and those suffering from asthma.
Mould can be a very bad thing. It can be a sign that other bad things are happening to a property, such as
serious leaks, damp, or ventilation problems. A landlord or tenant can be found to be liable if they do
something, or don’t do something that they should have done, that encourages mould to spread.
Landlords must maintain premises in a healthy condition. If mould is a result of a landlord’s failure to
properly maintain premises, the landlord can be in breach of the Residential Tenancy Agreement. The
landlord is obliged to repair the problem, and could also be liable to pay compensation to the tenant for
loss of use of the property and damage to the tenant’s goods.
By the same token, if a tenant can be shown to be responsible for mould, such as by not allowing
reasonable ventilation in the premises, they may have to pay compensation to the landlord.
A tenant who wants to get their landlord to fix a mould problem or is claiming compensation for damage
caused to their goods by mould will need good evidence. If a landlord is claiming that the tenant caused
the mould, the tenant should obtain good evidence to show that the mould is not their fault.
With the onset of cooler, wet weather more tenants are finding mould in their homes. Many are concerned
about the health issues of living in mouldy premises and are unsure what their rights and responsibilities
Mould is the name given to any type of fungi that grows on food or damp building materials (such as walls). It
comes in a variety of colours; green, white and black are most prevalent. Mould can have a musty smell,
which is often likened to a ‘wet dog’ odour. It spreads through spores, which are released into the air. With
persistent exposure, these spores can cause sometimes serious health problems.
Mould needs moisture and a certain level of heat to survive. Mould can exist at temperatures between 10C
and 40C. Humidity and condensation from driers, heaters, cooking or showering, combined with poor
ventilation, creates the ideal environment for mould. Using heaters to deal with cold, wet weather can
create an ideal situation for mould to grow. The problem with mould is that once you’ve got it, it gets
everywhere. Mould can destroy your clothes and other household items, like mattresses and furniture. Once
mould gets inside these larger items it is almost impossible to remove.
A landlord has a responsibility to provide a premise that is fit for habitation. The existence of persistent and
severe mould could indicate inadequate ventilation or a structural problem with the premise, such as a
hidden leak or rising damp. A landlord that does nothing to solve a mould problem, once they have been
notified by the tenant that there is an issue is in breach of the Residential Tenancy Agreement and the
tenant can apply to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal for a variety of orders, including an order
that the landlord resolve the mould issues, an order that you can leave, an order for rent reduction and an
order for compensation for damaged or destroyed goods. But before you jump online to lodge your
application there are some things you need to keep in mind.
Firstly, you have a duty to mitigate the landlord’s loss – many landlords on hearing that their premise has a
mould issue will try to blame the tenant. Many a tenant has been chastised for failure to turn on exhaust fans
while showering or to open windows to reduce condensation. Mitigating the landlord’s loss basically means
that you need to prevent the mould as much as possible.
The key here is commonsense. You need to keep the premises reasonably clean and notify the landlord in
writing as soon as you notice mould in the premises. If your goods are being affected by mould, get them
cleaned quickly and store them where they will not be exposed further.
Prevent mould as much as possible by using exhaust fans or opening windows to prevent condensation as
much as possible. A tenant recently told me that her agent had blamed her for mould because she failed
to keep her windows open at all times. Again, the key here is commonsense. If you work and live in a
ground floor flat you can’t leave your windows open all day and should not be expected to. It is reasonable
to open the windows or use an exhaust fan while showering, cooking or using the drier.
If you go to the Tribunal seeking orders that the landlord fixes the mould problem and it can be shown that
your actions contributed to the mould you could be held liable to compensate the landlord for damaging
their property. You could be in breach of your agreement by failing to keep the premises in a reasonable
state of cleanliness or for failing to advise the landlord of the need for repairs. These could be grounds for
termination. If you try to claim compensation for goods that you willingly left exposed to mould, you may
run into problems.
The second thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need good evidence to go to the Tribunal. Photographs
are great – a tenant with a serious mould issue took photographs of the liquid that came out of damp
rid containers poured into measuring jugs. This was very effective.
Another really great piece of evidence is a report from a company that assesses mould contamination in
premises. These can be pricy, but can often definitively isolate the cause of the mould and give an indication
as to how safe the place is to live in. If you want to claim for goods that you have lost or had to have cleaned
you should make an itemised list and include invoices/receipts.
You can also claim for cleaning products or damp removing products that you have used. You will need
receipts or invoices. You are not able to get compensation from the Tribunal for medical illnesses arising
from mould but a medical certificate from your doctor or specialist can show that the landlord did not
maintain the premises in a habitable state. The medical report should clearly
state that, in the doctor’s opinion, mould is a major contributor to the illness.
Repairs needed to properly remove mould (and damp etc) can be quite serious and may involve a level of
disruption to tenants. If you would like to stay it is important to know the expected impact of the work the
landlord is planning to do. It is a good idea to discuss this with your landlord. Discuss whether you will need
to be out of the premises for a period of time and how your goods will be stored. You are able to ask for a
rent reduction if your use of the premises is limited while work is carried out.
If you would like to leave, you should apply to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal first to get an
order that you can break the agreement. This is very important, as a failure to get an order from the Tribunal
could result in you having to pay the landlord up to 6 weeks rent as compensation.
If you are considering leaving the premises due to mould call your tenant’s advice and advocacy
service BEFORE you act, and their advocates will talk you through the possible pitfalls. A tenant
advocate can also help you prepare the best possible case to minimise the risk of having to ‘pay out the
landlord’. Check out E!TS’ factsheets on leaving early for more information.
To a certain extent, some mould is to be expected when we live in a humid and temperate climate like
Sydney. Many, if not all premises in Sydney suffer from some mould, particularly in autumn and winter. The
thing is that, in the words of one EATS client, “there is mould and there is mould”. Serious and persistent
mould is unhealthy and should not be tolerated.