Damp, mould and broken decking

Published on Tuesday, 01 August 2023. Posted in Case Studies

This dispute concerned the Agent’s handling of reports of internal mould and broken decking by the Tenant.

The Complaint

After discovering damp coming through the bedroom wall, the Tenant reported the issue to the Agent who arranged for the wall to be painted with mould resistant paint. However, several weeks later, the damp re-emerged. The Agent then arranged for vents to be added to the wall, but this also did not solve the problem and, after chasing the Agent for a response and receiving no update, the Tenant raised a formal complaint. In the Tenant’s original report, they also described that the decking at the rear of the property was rotten and coming away from the wall. However, the Tenant said that the Agent did not attend to the issue and, as a result, six months later the Tenant’s partner fell through the decking injuring his back. The issue was added to the Tenant’s formal complaint.

In response to the complaint, the Agent advised that they had acted promptly to instruct a contractor in relation to both problems but was aware that the contractor was having difficulty contacting the Tenant who, they said, had not returned calls.

The Investigation

The Agent was using online property maintenance software that allowed tenants to report issues and agents to be alerted to the same. As a result, the Tenant and the Agent had similar written records of what had occurred, the start point being the Tenant reporting both issues on the same day.

The software records combined with the Agent’s file notes indicated that they emailed the landlord the day the issues were reported. However, while the email itself was not provided, the response from the landlord only related to the damp issue with no reference to the decking. Furthermore, while the Agent provided correspondence with the Tenant acknowledging the damp problem, the evidence indicated that the decking issue had been ignored. This was compounded when the contractor attended the Property and only addressed the mould issue. As a result, the Tenant chased the Agent on a number of occasions, some of which were recorded in the Agent’s notes.

What was apparent when looking through the Agent’s notes was that they had previously dealt with an issue relating to a balustrade at the front of the property and it appeared that their lack of action regarding the decking resulted from the misguided belief that this was the same issue which they had previously resolved. Despite the regular communications from the Tenant on the matter, the evidence showed that the Agent only looked into the matter properly when the accident with the Tenant’s partner was reported six months later. It then took a further three months for the work to be completed. Furthermore, the Agent’s response to the subsequent complaint showed that they were still under the impression that issue in question concerned the balustrade.

Regarding the damp, the records showed that the Tenant had reported a circular damp patch on the bedroom wall and that mould had appeared on the doors, walls and windowsills. In the report, the Agent was informed that furniture had been placed in a way to allow airflow behind. Following the problem re-emerging after the contractor’s first visit to apply mould resistant paint, the Tenant submitted a further report explaining that despite leaving the windows open for as long as possible, the property still consistently smelt of damp and this was now having a health impact. The Agent’s subsequent communication to the landlord was not provided, but the landlord’s response was to request that a damp specialist was instructed to determine the root cause of the problem. The Agent’s response was to advise they would ask a local builder to first assess whether the problem was something simple or obvious. They then proceeded to instruct the same contractor they had previously used. Having not received a response to her report, the Tenant again chased the Agent for an update but did not receive a response.

Two weeks later an interim tenancy inspection took place with the Agent’s report recording condensation issues. The Agent subsequently issued the Tenant with condensation guidance to which the Tenant responded by providing updated photographs showing the damp problem worsening.

Three weeks later the contractor visited again and reported that the damp was being caused by a ventilation/plasterboard issue, not condensation and included a quote to fit vents. It appears the vents were fitted but the Agent’s file showed no record of when this work was complete.

Six months later damp started to appear in the same area of the bedroom as initially reported. Following the Tenant reporting this and not receiving a response, it was at this point the Tenant formally complained.

At the time the case was referred to the Ombudsman the damp issue remained unresolved

The Outcome

In relation to the rotten decking at the rear of the property, this was a clear health and safety risk which the Agent did not properly investigate. Had they done so they would have realised that this was a different issue to the balustrade at the front of the property. The Agent’s lack of attention to detail meant that the problem remained unreported to the landlord and unresolved for a significant period of time. That the Tenant had chased the Agent a number of times yet had not been prompted to look further into the matter compounded the issue. In considering the award, the adjudicator took into account that no evidence of injury or financial loss to the Tenant’s partner was provided. Accordingly, an award of £300 was made to reflect the aggravation and inconvenience the Agent’s shortcomings had caused.

Regarding the damp problem, it was clear that the Agent had acted promptly when issues were reported to try and resolve matters. However, what they had systematically failed to do was to keep the Tenant updated. This oversight had clearly caused the Tenant unnecessary and avoidable stress which merited a further financial award of £200. However, the adjudicator acknowledged that what was actually required as a matter of urgency was a resolution to the damp problem. Accordingly, the Agent was directed to proactively contact the Tenant and instruct specialist contractors to determine the full extent of the problem and then seek instruction from the landlord to carry out the necessary work.