With Australia's Bureau of Meteorology declaring La Niña for the third year in a row, Aussies can look forward to yet another sodden spring and summer — as well as the return of everyone's least favourite house guest: an infestation of mould.
So if, like us, you're starting to freak out about the possibility of having to sacrifice countless more items of clothing, furniture and wall space to your home's cruel, mouldy overlord — then listen up. We spoke to First National Real Estate's CEO, Ray Ellis, to breakdown exactly what rights you have as a tenant when it comes to battling mould in your home.
Here's what you need to know:
1. What's your responsibility as a renter when it comes to preventing an infestation of mould?
"Landlords have a general obligation to ensure the homes they lease out are in a reasonable state of cleanliness, but equally, tenants have an obligation not to contribute to adverse environmental conditions by not permitting appropriate ventilation," says Ray.
That means, if you're the kind of tenant that prefers to simply keep all the windows closed for ~cosy vibes~, or you relish a hot shower with zero ventilation, so you can experience a DIY steam room, then you could be the cause of a build-up of mould — and therefore responsible for cleaning it.
"However, if mould is caused by a leak in the roof, a faulty pipe or gutters or other structural faults, a landlord is responsible for fixing it and remediating the damage."
2. Do you have to 'prove' to your landlord or property manager that you've been taking all necessary steps to prevent mould build-up?
"Although we’re not aware of tenants being asked for 'proof' as such, communication is key," says Ray. "Property managers would typically provide tenants with information to help them try and mitigate the conditions that promote the growth of mould and this may prove sufficient to resolve a problem.
However, in an ongoing situation, tenants would ideally discuss with landlords or their property manager what both parties would consider 'reasonable steps' being taken to control environmental conditions that might exacerbate the growth of mould."
If you experienced an issue with mould last summer, then now is the time to start proactively taking steps to mitigate its return — and communicate to your landlord exactly how you're doing that. Taking photos (with metadata that you can use to reference dates and times) is incredibly valuable in tracking an outbreak and make sure to keep a hold of any receipts for expenses you've incurred trying to clean it up.
3. Once you notify your landlord that there's a mould issue, how long can they take to address your concerns?
"Legislation varies throughout Australia, but if the mould is considered a danger to health, then it may be considered an urgent repair," says Ray. "However, many factors may affect a landlord’s ability to respond — and a La Niña event could affect the availability of qualified trades to effect remedies. There’s no clear-cut timeline, but both property managers and tenants expect landlords to authorise an appropriate response in a reasonable timeframe."
Again, over-communication is key. Don't leave it too late to flag with your property owner that you're battling an increase of mould growth.
4. Is it legal for your landlord to put the financial responsibility on you to solve a mould issue — for instance, telling you to buy a dehumidifier or moisture absorbers?
To this one, Ray says a resounding hell no.
"No. It would not be appropriate to require a tenant to bear financial responsibility for structural problems or inadequate ventilation contributing to mould in the property – that’s the landlord’s responsibility to fix."
So if you keep getting vague advice from your landlord or property manager to simply "get a dehumidifier" — call them out on it. Lord knows that no one can afford the electricity bill of running a dehumidifier all summer long.
5. If keeping windows open is necessary for ventilation to fight mould — does the landlord have to provide you with fly screens or nets?
This is particularly important to know if you live in an older property, without pre-fitted fly screens — which is actually not a necessity for Aussie rentals.
"It’s not a requirement for a property to be fitted with fly screens, but property managers encourage landlords to do everything reasonable to make it convenient and easy for their tenant to open windows and adequately ventilate the property," says Ray. "Fitting fly screens in areas with high humidity or tropical insects would certainly be in both the interests of the landlord and tenant — plus it makes the landlord’s property more desirable to tenants."
If you're not opening your windows for fear of being mauled by mozzies during the night and you're starting to see an increase of mould — reach out to your property manager and raise the request. They might not agree to pay in full for the installation, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
6. In the case that your belongings are ruined by mould (for instance, your furniture, clothing, or bed linen), who is financially responsible for those items?
Provided that all care has been taken by the tenant to ventilate the property and prevent an outbreak of mould, you could be in for a pay day:
"Disputes over damage to belongings as a result of mould are determined by the appropriate authorities in each state and territory," says Ray. "In situations where there's evidence of a home's structural problems not having been adequately addressed by a landlord — and this has been the primary cause of damaging mould — then financial compensation may be awarded."