Who Is Responsible For Mould In A Strata Property?

June 1st, 2016

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Responsibility for mould in a strata property depends on where the mould is located, and what caused it to develop in the first place. Here we look at what mould is, the harmful effects it can have, how it is caused, and who bears the cost in a strata title property.

What is mould?

Mould is a type of microscopic fungus that grows anywhere there is moisture or humid conditions. It can grow on food, where it assumes a fuzzy, discoloured appearance, or on building surfaces such as walls. It comes in a range of different colours including black, blue, white and green.

Mould requires water in order to grow, plus food (particles of dead organic material), oxygen and a warm temperature. It can grow on and digest wood, as well as some synthetic materials like adhesives and paints, and can feed off dirt or debris on synthetic surfaces such as concrete, glass and metals. While mould prefers wet or damp conditions, it can also obtain its moisture from humid air (ideally over 60% relative humidity). It spreads by releasing microscopic spores into the air currents.

Harmful effects of mould

Because mould spores are floating in the air, we can easily breathe them in. If we do so regularly this can have harmful effects on our health, particularly in children, the elderly, asthmatics, and those with compromised immune systems.

For some people mould can cause throat, eye and nose irritations, breathing problems and allergic reactions. Some forms of mould also produce ‘mycotoxins’, which can have serious health consequences in cases of prolonged exposure including neurological problems and even death.

If left unchecked, mould can also destroy clothing and household items such as mattresses and furniture. Once mould gets a hold, it can be difficult to eradicate.

Causes of mould in a strata unit

There can be a number of reasons for the occurrence of mould in a unit, with all of them involving water. Mould can arise due to:

  • A burst pipe or leak coming from outside the unit, such as from a unit above.
  • The temperature difference between the heated interior and cold exterior of a building in winter, which can form condensation on walls and windows.
  • Hot showers on cold mornings where further condensation can cause mould to form on bathroom walls and ceilings, particularly when an exhaust fan is not used.
  • Windows being closed during the day while occupants are out.
  • Units that don’t receive much sun during the day.

Mould needs wet or damp conditions and a certain temperature level to thrive and survive (anywhere between 10? and 40?). Poor ventilation, humidity and condensation can all contribute to the perfect environment for mould to grow and thrive.

Eradication of mould

The best way to get rid of mould is to eradicate the conditions it needs to survive. Removing moisture content in the atmosphere reduces the risk of mould growth; the best way to achieve this is to create cross flow ventilation, which can dry up condensation in a matter of hours.

Opening windows is the most obvious way to do this, but it’s not always possible in winter or when you are away from your unit during the day. To overcome security issues you could consider installing deadlocks on windows which allow them to be locked partially open. Another possible solution is a dehumidifier which, while more expensive to buy and run, would remove humidity and condensation in a warm home during winter without having to open any windows.

Once you have addressed the issue of moisture and condensation, the final step is to remove all traces of the existing mould from walls and ceilings. There are a range of specific products available which can do this, from those containing bleach to more natural solutions such as vinegar. Once the mould is removed the surfaces should then be repainted with special mould resistant paint to prevent spores from reforming.

Responsibility for mould

Now that we know what mould is, how it’s caused and how to get rid of it, whose responsibility is it to do so, and who is liable for damage caused by mould in a unit complex?

In a rental situation the landlord would normally be responsible for ensuring a healthy, mould-free environment and the tenant would have several avenues of recourse open to them, including requesting the problem be fixed, asking for a reduced rent, asking for compensation for damaged possessions, or ending the lease without penalty. That is unless the landlord is able to show the mould is the result of the tenant’s own actions or inactions (i.e. not opening windows or using exhaust fans), in which case the tenant may be liable to compensate the landlord for damage.

In a strata title property responsibility becomes a little harder to determine, and depends largely on where the mould is located and what the cause is. If it’s caused by a plumbing leak, it will depend on whether the plumbing is on common property or in plumbing shared with other owners (in both cases, the body corporate is responsible), or if it’s part of the unit’s internal plumbing (which is the lot owner’s responsibility).
The common property boundaries of a lot are generally defined by the upper floor surface (not including carpet), the under surface of the ceiling and all external or boundary walls, including doors and windows. If the cause of the mould is located outside any of these boundaries (including inside the boundary walls), the body corporate is responsible for repairs and compensation. If the cause of the mould is within these boundaries, such as internal plumbing leaks or poor ventilation, then the lot owner is responsible for the damage and clean up costs.