Dampness in buildings

What is damp?

Damp is a common problem which many tenants experience when renting accommodation. There are several types of dampness:

  • rising damp, which happens when moisture travels up from the ground through the masonry to the height of about one metre
  • penetrating damp, which happens when water penetrates into the fabric of a building from outside to inside, for example, because of a leaking downpipe
  • construction damp, where dampness is caused by a problem in how the property was designed
  • condensation dampness, which generally happens when a property can’t deal with normal levels of water vapour because of a lack of insulation, ventilation or heating, or a combination of all of these things.

What’s rising damp?

Rising damp is more common in older properties. It generally affects the lower part of the ground floor of a property up to the height of about one metre. So, if you live above the ground floor in a block of flats and have damp, it won’t be rising damp.

Who’s responsible for rising damp?

In many cases, your landlord is responsible for dealing with rising damp. This is because there’s a term implied into your tenancy agreement which says that it’s their responsibility to keep the exterior and structure of your home in repair.

If there’s a problem with an existing damp-proof course (DPC) in your home which is causing the dampness, then your landlord is likely to be responsible for repairing it. However, they need to know about the problem first.

If your home doesn’t have a DPC, your landlord may not be responsible for putting one in. This is because the work may be regarded as an improvement rather than a repair. Each case would have to be considered on its own facts.

What’s penetrating damp?

Penetrating damp can be caused by a number of repair problems, for example:

  • a leaking roof
  • a cracked wall
  • leaking guttering or external pipes
  • a leaking drainage pipe
  • rotten windows or doors.

Who’s responsible for penetrating damp?

In many cases where the dampness is caused by problems such as those listed above, the landlord is responsible for repairing the problem. This is because a term implied into your tenancy agreement says that the landlord must keep in repair the exterior and structure of your home as well as installations like basins, sinks, baths, toilets and their pipework.Your landlord is responsible for repairing the problem when they become aware of it

What’s construction damp?

Construction dampness is caused by a problem with a property’s design. For example, a design defect in a property causes the basement to become damp when the level in the water table rises.

Who’s responsible for construction damp?

In cases of construction damp, if the design problem doesn’t affect the structure or exterior of your home or cause any disrepair, then your landlord may not have a responsibility under the tenancy agreement to prevent the dampness.

However, where a design problem causes disrepair, for example, it damages wall or ceiling plaster, then your landlord would be responsible for repairing the problem.

Your landlord is responsible for repairing the problem when they become aware of it.

Taking action on damp

If you’ve reported problems with damp to your landlord and they haven’t done anything about it, there is action you can take.

In some cases, 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.

Contacting the local authority

Tenants in private rented accommodation and tenants of housing associations could contact the local authority’s Environmental Health department.

If the dampness in your home is harmful to your health or is a nuisance, then it may be a statutory nuisance. Where there is a statutory nuisance, the local authority may be able to force your landlord to deal with the problem.

Or the dampness could be a risk to your health or safety and therefore a hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

Taking court action

Some tenants take court action against their landlord because they’ve failed to deal with dampness. Taking court action can be costly and time consuming and you should only take it as a last resort.

If you’re considering court action it’s not enough just to show that your home is damp. You’ll have to show that the damp is there because either:

  • your landlord hasn’t met their repair responsibilities, for example, they haven’t repaired a leaking roof, or
  • a damp problem has caused damage to your home which your landlord is responsible for repairing, for example, dampness that has damaged the plasterwork in your home.

Other options

There are other options that you can consider when dealing with disrepair problems such as damp.


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