Rental apartments and mould: a common story

In indoor environments, mould is a result of moisture and poor ventilation. This fungal growth can trigger all sorts of health problems, including nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and respiratory infections. Mould can also worsen asthma and allergies, so people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to its effects. As a tenant dealing with indoor mould, you need to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as well as those of your landlord.

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities

Before moving into rental premises, tenants should thoroughly inspect the property and review its condition report. Tenants have the right to occupy a property that’s in a reasonable state of both cleanliness and repair, and therefore fit to live in. They also have the right to report any defects and to ask the landlord to arrange for repairs in a timely manner. Similarly, tenants have a responsibility to keep the premises reasonably clean and to report any damage to the landlord.

Removing mould from your home

If you find mould in your rental property, it’s important to have it removed promptly to prevent health issues and further damage to the property. When you need to remove mould from your home, try taking the following steps:

  1. Report the issue to your landlord.
  2. Work with your landlord to determine how they will organise the mould’s removal and who will cover the costs. The party responsible for the mould — whether this is the landlord, for failing to address the property’s structural issues or defects, or the tenant, for failing to keep the premises clean or properly ventilated — is usually responsible for the costs.
  3. Get a written quote from a mould-removal specialist and give it to your landlord, asking that they be responsible for the cost.
  4. Photograph the mould before the specialist removes it. You can then use the pictures as evidence in any disputes with your landlord.

Landlords’ responsibilities

If a tenant gives a landlord sufficient notice to fix a mould problem, and the landlord fails to do so, they may be in breach of their duties — provided that the tenant can prove the landlord is responsible for the mould. The tenant can then send a Breach of Duty Notice to the landlord. This Notice not only urges them to rectify the problem, but also acts as a final notice, warning the landlord that if they continue to fail in their duty of care, the tenant may take legal action.

Public liability claims

If a tenant develops long-term health problems as a result of mould, they may be entitled to seek compensation for their injuries in the form of a public liability claim.

In this case, the first step is to seek independent legal advice. A lawyer will arrange for the tenant to see an independent medico-legal doctor to ensure that their injury is related to the cause: the mould in the rental property. In order to go ahead with the claim, the tenant needs the doctor to assess the injury as more than 5% ‘whole person impairment’.

If the tenant’s injury meets this threshold, the lawyer will serve notice to the landlord, who is now the defendant. The defendant's lawyer then has 60 days to refer the client to the medical panel. If the lawyer chooses not to do so and accepts the impairment assessment, proceedings can commence. Once the necessary steps are complete, the lawyer will arrange mediation to try to resolve the issue with a public liability claim payout.

Tenants are entitled to live in a property that’s free of indoor mould and its health risks. It’s up to landlords, in cooperation with their tenants, to ensure that rental properties are well ventilated and stay dry. Let’s leave the mould on the cheese plate, where it belongs.

Dimi Ioannou is a Principal lawyer in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office.

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