Landlords not taking mould issues seriously despite grave illness, tenants claim
Tenant advocates say there is often an assumption that mould is the residents’ fault. (Supplied)
Tenants are struggling to get landlords to take mould in their properties seriously, despite a growing number of people claiming it has left them seriously ill.
- Parliamentary inquiry hears face an uphill battle to have mould issues address
- The inquiry heard tenants who made a fuss were often evicted
- The REINSW said testing methods were unreliable and the science of mould sickness not settled
A parliamentary inquiry looking into mould-related illnesses in Australia heard those in rental properties or public housing often faced an uphill battle to get the problem addressed.
Caleb Rudd runs a Facebook support group for Australians with mould-related illnesses and said many of them became sick because of mould in their home.
“If the buildings were not damp and water damaged, no-one would actually have this condition,” he said.
The committee investigating has called on the Federal Government to work with the states and territories to ensure tenants know about mould or water damage before they move into a property.
They also want the Government to have a fresh look at whether Australia’s building codes are good enough.
Mr Rudd said the committee’s recommendations were a step in the right direction.
Some people can experience flu-like symptoms when exposed to mould. (ABC RN: Sophie Kesteven)
He also agreed with its call for the Government to look into the varied and sometimes unreliable ways people tested for mould.
“It’s a bit of a wild west at the moment in this space,” Mr Rudd said.
“A lot of people can call themselves a remediator without much training.”
Landlords can’t be forced to take action
Leo Patterson Ross from the National Association of Tenant Organisations said there was often an assumption that mould was the residents’ fault.
“A landlord or agent’s first reaction to you reporting mould is to say, ‘well, clearly you haven’t been ventilating enough, you haven’t been cleaning enough, you’ve done something wrong’,” he said.
The rules vary slightly in different states and territories.
But generally, a tenant must keep a property clean and avoid damage, and a landlord must ensure the place is in decent condition at the beginning of lease and keep it in a reasonable state of repair.
The inquiry heard tenants who made a fuss about mould were often evicted. (Supplied: Jemima Balhas)
“Particularly, for instance, in a bathroom,” Mr Patterson Ross said.
“You can’t expect a tenant to be able to ventilate that by just opening a window.”
If there is a problem or dispute, the matter can go to a tribunal.
“And then it starts getting complicated, because the tribunal can order repairs to be done, but they can’t actually force a landlord or an agent to call a tradie or pick up a hammer and do any work themselves,” Mr Patterson Ross said.
“So if a landlord or agent ignores that order, and this does happen fairly routinely, then you have to start going back for compensation.”
That could include demanding compensation for the cost of damaged clothes or furniture.
But not many people find the idea of a prolonged legal battle over mould appealing, and the inquiry heard tenants who made a fuss were often evicted.
‘Where is the science in this?’
Tim McKibbin from the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales (REINSW) said property agents usually wanted to cooperate. But he said tenants should also use common sense.
“So if there is an exhaust fan in the bathroom, use it,” he said.
“If you are able to leave a window open, most bathrooms will have some sort of a window available to them to let fresh air in.”
Mr McKibbin said unreliable testing methods were also an issue for landlords.
He said a test that picked up signs of water damage, such as bacteria in the air, could just as easily detect bacteria coming from a full garbage bin as from mould on the wall.
And he stressed there was still no scientific evidence that mould would make people sick.
“Where is the science in this? There just isn’t any at this stage,” he said.
“Provide us with some science, provide us with some guidance as property managers on how we can deal with this issue.
“It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request.”
The Federal Government is now considering the report’s recommendations.