As a student, you are unlikely to be looking for luxury apartments or new builds. You want to rent an affordable student house that is big enough for all of your friends and still leaves you with money.
When looking at larger, more affordable houses in student areas, you are likely to find houses that have been neglected by landlords. The amount of neglect can vary dramatically.
There will be certain things you are willing to compromise on when choosing a property. However, there are major issues like damp that can end up being bad for your health, and damage your clothes and property.
It may seem boring to discuss damp and hear precautionary tales but trust us, living in a damp property is deeply distressing. There’s the musty smell, the damage to your possessions and potential health risks that include respiratory complaints. And then there are the high-levels of stress you can experience dealing with letting agents and landlords to get the damp issues resolved. All in all, it’s much better to spot damp before signing up and cross the house off the list
This guide is split in two – one section helps you spot damp and avoid damp properties and the second is for those of you who are already living in damp properties and want to take action to get it sorted.
As specialists in dealing with damp, Permagard want to help you spot damp and judge how bad it is so that you make the right decision when it comes to choosing a student property.
BEFORE RENTING – SPOTTING DAMP
How to spot damp before moving into your student house
When you are looking around a potential property, there are a few key areas where you should check for the tell tale signs of damp. Problems with damp aren’t always found until it’s too late but this should help.
It may seem like common sense but if there are current tenants in the property when you are shown round then ask the question: “Have you had any problems with damp?” Anyone that has suffered the effects of damps will want to warn you against it. Also, don’t let the letting agent rush you around the property. Take your time and perform the checks detailed below.
There are different types of damps that can affect a property. We will take you through how to spot each type with pictures and a basic summary:
Condensation is easy to spot, especially if the property still has occupants.
The obvious signs of condensation are:
- Steamed-up windows and puddles on the window sills
- Black spotty mould on walls and ceilings. This is particularly common in bathrooms. Black mould often gathers in the corners of rooms so make sure you look here.
- Walls that are damp to touch – don’t be afraid to put your hand on all walls as you look around
- Damp, peeling wallpaper – look at the top and bottom corners of wallpapered rooms.
- Musty smell – you can usually smell damp
Condensation looks like this:
Condensation is usually more of a problem when there are people in a property as it is caused by daily activities such as showering, drying washing and cooking. If the property is already empty when you view it, you will need to make a judgement based on any evidence of black mould and damage to wallpaper.
If you are moving into a larger property with several people then condensation is more likely as the amount of moisture created is increased.
What Ventilation is there?
Condensation can be controlled by adequate ventilation. You should check the property to see what ventilation exists. It is best to focus on the problem rooms like the bathroom / shower room and the kitchen.
Locally-installed bathroom or kitchen humidity-controlled extractor fans will help minimise condensation. You may also find more basic ventilation such as:
Vent images by Antonio Mette via Wikimedia Commons
Rising Damp and Penetrating Damp
Rising and penetrating damp are major issues compared to condensation. If you see evidence of either you should probably avoid the property altogether. With student lets often only being for a year, it is unlikely that the landlord will spend the money to resolve the underlying issues.
Rising damp is a relatively rare form of damp and is a major problem. It is caused by moisture rising up through the walls and salts then being deposited on the internal walls. It is these salts and tidemarks that are the tell-tale signs of rising damp. Rising damp is hard to diagnose so you may have to consider if you are willing to take the risk based on what you can see.
Common Signs of Rising Damp:
- A tidemark on your wall – this line of white salts is formed by the evaporation of the ground water.
- White fluffy salts on the surface
- Damp on the lower half of your walls
- Damage to skirting boards
- Crumbling or blown plaster
- Peeling paint or wallpaper
- Musty, damp smell
What it Looks like:
Tidemarks can look like this:
Salt Crystals can look like this:
Penetrating damp occurs when water from outside makes its way inside. This is usually down to a building fault such as leaky guttering and downpipes, leaking pipes or damage to the roof. You will tend to find these issues with older buildings and they get worse during wet weather.
Ask to be shown the outside of the property during your viewing so you can look for external evidence of building faults. Look out for obvious faults with gutters and downpipes e.g. are there broken joints? Can you see grass growing out of the guttering? Also check for faults with the walls such as damaged pointing, damaged pebbledash, cracks or holes in the mortar joints.
Common signs of penetrating damp include:
- Damp and blotchy stains on plaster work
- Cracks or holes in mortar joints, render and masonry surfaces
- Wet patches both internally and externally
What Penetrating Damp Looks like:
Common signs of Damp Cover Up
Some landlords will attempt to tackle the damp problem superficially without getting to the root cause of the problem. It could be a case that they have simply painted over the damp. The following signs can suggest an attempt to cover up the damp:
- Incense or room fresheners used to cover up smell of damp
- New paint - an obvious choice for those looking to temporarily conceal damp
- New wallpaper - can be used to cover both cracks and damp
What to Do if you Notice Damp when you are already renting your Student Property
It is important to tackle the damp before it causes any damage to your possessions and health. This involves finding out what is causing the damp and who is responsible for dealing with it. And then taking action.
The most common cause of damp is condensation (see the condensation section above). If the damp is caused by condensation and your property has adequate ventilation - windows that open - then the landlord is unlikely to be responsible. In fact, as the tenant, you will be responsible. However, if the damp is not caused by condensation, then your landlord may well be responsible.
Tips on Reducing Condensation in a Student House
If you have condensation in your student house then there are some things that you can do straight away to reduce it. By reducing condensation you are in a better position to judge if there are any other forms of damp that need to be fixed by your landlord.
- Open windows to allow air to circulate. Ideally, you should cross ventilate by opening windows at opposite sides of the house.
- Keep heating on at a regular low temperature - preventing rapid changes in the temperature will help reduce condensation. Also, try and make sure the heating is on throughout the house.
- Don’t dry your washing indoors if possible. If you can, dry your clothes outside or at a laundrette. If you have no option but to dry them indoors, then do so in the bathroom with the door closed and the window open or fan on. In no circumstances should you dry clothes directly on hot radiators.
- Create less moisture – put lids on pans when cooking and add cold water before hot water when running a bath and doing the washing up.
- Keep doors shut to stop moist air spreading throughout your home – in particular the kitchen and bathroom doors.
- Use all extractor fans that you have, especially in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Correctly vent your tumble dryer – if you are lucky enough to have a tumble dryer then make sure it is vented correctly to the outside. Self-condensing dryers do not require to be vented outside.
- Avoid blocking ventilation – check that there is nothing preventing or reducing available ventilation such as covering air vents and closing ventilators.
It’s helpful to document damp issues from the outset just in case you need to provide evidence at any stage:
- Take photos of any signs of damp as evidence – use a date stamp on the photographs if possible. If it gets worst after rain or the condition progresses then take new photographs.
- Keep a diary of who you contacted and when about the issues, including as much detail as possible.
- Try and get written correspondence from the landlord or student letting agents. Phone conversations can be hard to document.
Damp and your Landlord
Your rights as tenants depend on the root causes of the damp. As a topline overview, if the damp is caused by condensation then it will be hard to make the landlord take action.
Landlords are likely to blame damp on condensation and your activities. This is because in most cases the type of mould you have is related to condensation. In a student home you are likely to have multiple people taking showers, drying clothes indoors, cooking at separate times – these activities are the source of so much water.
The landlord is likely to argue that you as the tenant are responsible. They will also state that in order to reduce condensation you need to leave the heating on even when you are not at home (painful for those on a tight budget), ventilate as much as possible and never dry clothes indoors. You can even be liable for damage caused by condensation.
If the damp is a result of a landlord’s failure to properly maintain the premises, then they may well be in breach of the Residential Tenancy Agreement.
Dampness may be the responsibility of the landlord, particularly if it is due to building faults such as the walls or roof, structural defects such as inadequate ventilation, poor insulation or faulty heating. They may be held responsible under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System or under their statutory repairing covenants in section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.1.
In summary, the landlord is responsible for repairs as a result of damp if:
- the damp is caused by a structural defect in the property;
- the property lacks damp proofing;
- there is a leak (e.g. in the roof);
- there is inadequate insulation, heating or ventilation causing condensation.
We've put together a guide to tackling damp and problem condensation for landlords, outling their options.
Check Your Tenancy Agreement
There may be terms in your tenancy agreement that mean your landlord is responsible for the dealing with dampness, regardless of the cause.
What to Do if you Believe there is a Damp Issue that is Your Landlord’s Responsibility
1. Contact Landlord
Inform your landlord or letting agent of any damp problems as soon as possible. You should follow up by writing formally to them (be polite and professional) detailing the problem and requesting action is taken.
Once your landlord is made aware that your house is experiencing damp issues they should take action to fix the problem as quickly as possible.
2. Health and Environmental Services
If your landlord doesn't fix the damp problem, you can contact your local council’s environmental health department to inspect the house. Shelter has some more information on asking the council for help in housing matters.
An officer will attend to inspect your property, measure the level of damp and identify the source. If the damp levels are deemed to be detrimental to health, they will then notify the landlord of deficiencies that they are responsible for e.g. a problem with leaking pipes or structural defects. At this stage, this is an informal request.
If the disrepair is serious enough or the landlord refuses to complete repairs, the council will serve them with a legal notice to carry out repairs and maintenance work. If repairs are still not carried out, they can fine them or take court action.
WARNING: According to Citizens Advice, a private landlord may decide to evict a tenant rather than do repair work. Make sure you know whether you're at risk of eviction before taking action.
3. Court Action
Some tenants decide to take their landlords to court because they've failed to deal with the damp issues. This can be costly, time consuming and it is down to you to prove that the damp is the landlords responsibility. As a student on a short term contract, this is not recommended and you should only take it as a last resort.
Permagard: Over 28 Years of Helping People Solve Damp
If you are a student and want to find out about our products to deal with mould growth and condensation then call us for free advice. If you own a student property and want to fix a damp problem then contact us today to discuss our full range of damp proofing products.
If you’ve been told to remove the mould and that it’s your fault, save yourself the hassle and go straight for professional mould washes. In bathrooms, you can use a Mould Wash Concentrate to get rid of mould. You can also look at our other anti-mould products.
Which? on Renting Student Houses with Damp
Permagard’s Big Damp Guide