Condensation dampness causes severe problems for many people. The dampness and consequent mould growth can be damaging to health and can destroy clothing and furnishings. Attempts to heat damp premises can lead to high fuel bills. The causes of, and remedies for, condensation are complex. Most remedies are beyond the means or control of tenants, involving substantial expenditure on, for example, structure and heating systems.
Legal remedies for condensation
In Scotland, the obligations on a landlord under the Repairing Standard (see here) are wide enough to cover condensation. This means your landlord has to make sure that there is no condensation problem when your tenancy starts and that, if it arises during the tenancy and you report it, s/he must carry out whatever works are necessary to solve the problem. Condensation and dampness are not limited to physical dangers, regard should also be given to your comfort.1Agnes Fife Pursuer v Scottish Home Defenders (1995) SCLR 209, 26 January 1994 In England and Wales, for condensation to come within a landlord’s repairing obligations you must show that there has been ‘damage to the structure and exterior which requires to be made good’.2Dillon LJ in Quick v Taff Ely BC  18 HLR 66 This has to relate to the physical condition of the structure or exterior. Unless condensation has occurred over a long time and plaster has perished or window frames are rotten as a result, it may be hard to show this. If the condensation damage is caused by inherent defects in the building (eg, because of defective materials) and if the only way to correct this is to carry out improvements, this can be ordered by the court. A landlord will not, however, be ordered to renew a building completely or to change it substantially – what will be required is a question of degree.3Ravenseft Properties Ltd v Davstone Holdings Ltd  1 All ER 929 It is very unlikely that a court would order installation of a different heating system or the full range of works necessary to remedy condensation. Therefore, in England and Wales, it is normally more effective to prosecute under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for a ‘statutory nuisance’ (see here). It is not necessary to prove a breach of any contractual or statutory duty to use this remedy. This means that a court can hold a landlord liable even if s/he is not in breach of her/his responsibilities for repairs. A court can also order works of improvement if these are necessary to abate a nuisance.4Birmingham DC v Kelly  17 HLR 572 Landlords sometimes argue that tenants could avoid the nuisance by changing their lifestyle or by heating premises properly. This is rarely correct. If your landlord provides ventilation or a heating system, you are expected to use it,5Dover DC v Farrar  2 HLR 32 but you are not required to use ‘wholly abnormal quantities of fuel’.6GLC v LB Tower Hamlets  15 HLR 54 In a private civil claim arising from nuisance caused by another tenant rather than the premises, the landlord is only liable to the extent that s/he ‘must either participate directly in the commission of the nuisance’ or has ‘authorised it by letting the property’. Merely being aware of a tenant creating a nuisance is not sufficient to ground a claim.7Southwark LBC v Mills  1 AC 1; Lawrence and another v Fen Tigers Ltd and others  2 All ER 622