Black mould growing in rental properties around Tasmania is allegedly causing breathing problems and sickness, with renters told to manage the mould problem themselves.
The Tasmanian Tenants’ Union is requesting amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act that would allow renters to break lease agreements without penalty, where mould has been proved to have caused ill-health.
The property industry slammed the request, stating that a majority of mould issues in rental properties were caused by housekeeping issues relating to heating, ventilation or cleaning.
Concerns have been raised as a nationwide Federal inquiry into biotoxin-related illnesses calls for submissions into the prevalence of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) and related illnesses, due to water-damaged buildings.
Tasmanian Tenants’ Union solicitor Ben Bartl said the union received numerous complaints from tenants about mould during winter, stating shortness of breath, dizziness, sleeping problems or the exacerbation of asthma symptoms.
“We have had a number of cases over the years where tenants have not been able to remain in the property due to the impacts on their health,” he said.
“There are no protections for tenants living in mouldy properties. We would like to see amendments … if tenants provide proof that the mould is the cause of medical problems, with a medical certificate from their general practitioner, then they should be able to leave a lease without penalty.”
Knight Frank property manager head Robbie Yeoland strongly disagreed with the proposal.
She said mould could be caused by property issues such as leaking pipes or no insulation, or housekeeping issues such as inadequate ventilation and heating.
“The cause of the mould needs to be accurately determined,” she said.
“If it is not a property issue then it is the tenants responsibility by removing condensation it allows the property to dry, but if there is a constant source of moisture that contributes to growth.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING MOULD?
Mould is a fungus that grows in dark and wet conditions, in areas that are cold and have poor ventilation, and it grows on walls, ceilings, tiles, carpet, curtains and wood.
It produces spores that can be inhaled by humans causing wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and asthma symptoms.
The Tenants’ Union of Tasmania tells its clients to contact their local council if they believe the mould is serious, with Mr Bartl stating that it has the powers to ask landlords to rectify the problem, or in more serious cases, order the property be closed down.
He said it was very rare for councils to declare a property structurally unsound.
The Launceston City council states on its website to contact the landlord or property manager, and if the issue is not dealt with, to then contact the council
“We may investigate your concerns and determine whether the premises is or is likely to become offensive, injurious or prejudicial to health, or is so unhealthy that no person can safely occupy the premises,” it stated.
“We will also consider if the situation is caused by structural defects or occupier behaviour or both, and take action to alleviate public health risks if required.”
Mr Bartl said many tenants put up with the problem, regardless of the health concerns, due to worry of eviction in a tough rental market.
“Tenants are fearful, and because of that they don’t ask that repairs be done and they don’t complain because they worry they might lose their home.”