Everything you need to know about damp – for landlords and tenants

Everything you need to know about damp – for landlords and tenants

Damp can be one of the biggest problems for both landlords and tenants.

In the autumn and winter, in particular, the issue of damp can be a massive headache for landlords, especially if the problem is caused by a fault with the structure of your property.

Often, though, damp issues can be caused inadvertently by tenants, which means educating the people living in your rental property can often be an effective way to reduce damp.

In this guide, we’ll look at damp in more detail and explain how you can get rid of it…


What causes damp?

Damp is caused either by a problem with a property’s structure, or by poor habits from those living inside.

The most common form of damp is rising damp, which we’ll look at in more detail later.

But other forms of damp include:

  • Lateral, or penetrating damp
  • Condensation

Penetrating damp is usually caused by a problem with the property’s structure.

As its name suggests, penetrating damp is wetness that passes through the walls, usually because of a fault like leaky guttering, a damaged roof or leaking pipework.

Condensation is usually caused by poor ventilation in a property and occurs when warm air hits cold surfaces like walls and windows.


Damp proofing your rental property

It’s illegal to build a property without a damp-proof course (DPC), but many older properties either have an inadequate DPC installed or one that has become damaged over time.

A damp-proof course is a protective membrane that stops water rising up through the foundations of a property and into the masonry and walls.

When a DPC is damaged or inadequate, water can rise up through the walls of a property, creating tell-tell damp patches on internal plaster or brick work.

If your property’s DPC is damaged, or not performing the job it was installed to do, you will have to look at a retrospective damp-proof course installation to remedy the problem.


Rising damp: What it is and how to get rid of it

Rising damp is caused when water comes up through a property’s foundations and into the masonry walls.

A faulty DPC, or even a non-existent one if your property was built before DPCs became a legal requirement in 1875, will almost certainly be the cause of the issue.


How to spot rising damp

The tell-tell signs of rising damp are:

  • Rotten skirting boards or crumbling plaster on walls
  • Peeling paint or wallpaper and wet patches on walls
  • A white, powdery substance on walls
  • Lifting floors and yellow / brown staining on walls


How much does damp proofing cost?

Replacing a damaged DPC or installing one in an old property is a huge amount of structural work.

So, most rising damp treatments involve injecting a damp-proof cream into the walls of a property.

A specialist will remove the plaster of affected walls, drill holes and inject the substance that will stop moisture rising up through the masonry.

The costs involved depend on how many walls need to be treated but can run into thousands of pounds.

Decoration and replastering afterwards is also an additional cost.


Damp caused by condensation

Condensation is often more of a problem in rooms like kitchens and bathrooms, where there is a lot of warm air and a lot of cold surfaces for it to hit.

But bedrooms, too, can be problematic during the colder months, with the warm air exhaled from sleeping hitting cold windowpanes and walls at night.


Damp prevention measures

While preventing rising damp and penetrating damp is reliant on an effective DPC and a solid property structure, damp caused by condensation can be easier to prevent.

As a landlord, often it’s a case of educating your tenants and ensuring that your rental property is well ventilated.


Preventing condensation in kitchens and bathrooms

If you have an extractor hood above the cooking hob in your rental property, you should advise your tenants to use it when cooking.

The key to eradicating kitchen damp is to ensure warm air is removed from the room before it has a chance to settle on to a cold surface like a wall or window.

Extractor hobs suck warm air out of kitchens and disperse it outside and this is a simple way to protect your kitchen against damp and mould.

If your rental property’s kitchen doesn’t have an extractor hood, you should consider installing one or, at the very least, advise your tenants to open a window when cooking so warm air can escape outside.

In bathrooms, where showering can cause a plume of warm air from hot water, you should install an extractor fan if you haven’t already – particularly if there are no windows that tenants can open to allow that air to escape.


Will a dehumidifier get rid of damp?

While a dehumidifier won’t get rid of the signs of damp, it will help to dry out affected walls or floors so they can be redecorated.

If your property has had damp treatment, such as a retrospective DPC installed, you should use a dehumidifier after the work is finished to dry out any remaining dampness.

Dehumidifiers are also good for reducing condensation caused during sleep in poorly ventilated bedrooms and can be run in the mornings to dry any moisture on windowpanes or walls.


Does opening windows reduce damp?

Opening windows can help reduce damp.

In bathrooms and kitchens during cooking and bathing, opening a window can allow warm air to escape before it hits a cold surface and turns to into condensation, which will cause damp and mould.


How to treat damp walls internally

The first and most important thing when it comes to damp is to treat the root cause of the problem effectively.

Simply painting over damp patches on walls won’t eradicate the issue.

If your rental property’s walls have been damaged badly by damp and you’ve fixed the source of the problem, they may require re-plastering, before being painted and protected with a mould-resistant paint.


How to get rid of a damp smell in carpets

One of the biggest legacy problems with damp is the smell it causes.

Even if you’ve removed and fixed the problem that was causing damp in your rental property, you may still be able to sense that horrible musty smell caused by mould.

Often the smell will be in the carpet, particularly if you’ve had an issue with rising damp.

The best thing to do is to seek advice from a specialist carpet cleaner, who may be able to remedy the problem and bring your carpet back to life.

However, if damp has really taken hold, it’s often best to simply replace the carpet.


Are landlords responsible for damp?

If damp in your rental property is caused by a structural or DPC problem, then you are responsible to fix the issue as a landlord.

Under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, you are obligated as a landlord to provide a habitable home for your tenants.

Under the Act, tenants can take legal action if they believe their rental home isn’t habitable – with damp and mould included on the list of 29 hazards within the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

If a property is suffering with damp due to a structural issue, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 stipulates that you should fix the issue as soon as possible, with courts deciding on exactly how quickly this should be done.

Problems that directly affect a tenant’s health or safety are usually expected to be rectified within a matter of days, with less urgent repairs carrying a timeframe of 28 days.

However, if your property’s damp problem is caused by condensation, it can be more difficult to establish whether that is due to a tenant’s lifestyle (i.e drying clothes indoors, not opening windows or using extractor fans) or due to a lack of ventilation in the property.

As a landlord, you should ensure your rental property is well ventilated and rooms where damp and mould can be problematic are fitted with extractor fans.

You should also provide guidance to your tenants on ventilating the property regularly and advise on the things they should avoid doing that can cause damp and mould issues.


Further reading…

If you’re a tenant renting a property currently, or you’re looking to take on a tenancy in the future, take a look at our guide to decorating your property in a landlord-friendly way.