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Condensation Dampness in the Private Rented Housing Sector in Northern Ireland

Leah Watters  BSc(Hons) BSc(Hons) MSc DipIOA MSc CMCIEH CIHCM , Senior Environmental Officer with Mid Ulster District Council, recently carried out research into condensation dampness in the private rented sector. She has kindly shared a summary of her research with Housing Rights. 

Research was undertaken to evaluate the impact of condensation dampness and compare UK statutory housing standards intended to address housing conditions, in particular condensation dampness within the Private Rented Housing Sector (PRHS) Northern Ireland (NI).

The research rationale stemmed from a number of factors, including the increasing importance of the PRHS in housing low income and vulnerable groups due to shortage of affordable housing, limited mortgages and insufficient housing restricting individuals’ accommodation choices (Housing Rights Service, 2014 and Grey et al, 2014, p.26 and Battersby, 2011a, p6).

Additionally, the PRHS has a reported higher rate of unfitness within the PRHS compared to other tenures (an average of 2% and as high as 7% in some areas in NI) (NIHE, 2012, p74). Disrepair was also noted at 53% for the PRHS NI. The PRHS has the highest proportion of households in fuel poverty- 49% (60,300) (NIHE, 2011, p58), and has the highest rate of energy inefficiency (Rudge, 2012, p10). In NI, overall the full cost to society of poor housing is estimated at £82 million/year (Shaw, 2015, p7). The estimated annual cost to National Health Service to treat ill health resulting from substandard housing is £2.4 billion/year in the UK (Davidson et al, 2012, p21).

Condensation dampness is also reported as a common complaint and has potential links to fuel poverty and health (Liddell et al, 2011 and Liddell and Lagdon, 2013, WHO, 2009, Collins, 2000 and Wilkinson et al, 2000). The link between inadequate heating; damp, cold, and mouldy houses; and poor health has been highlighted in international reports (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM), 2004; Bonnefoy et al, 2003;  Howden-Chapman and Tobias, 2000; and Department of health, 1998 in Howden-Chapman et al, 2007, p1). An IPSOS MORI survey reported 37% of UK households live with condensation problems and 28% with mould, these issues higher among renters (Energy Saving Trust, 2014), particularly poor households (Battersby, 2011a, p6- 7).

Currently the effectiveness/appropriateness of the Fitness Standard is being reviewed and debated with proposals to introduce the Housing Health and Rating System (HHSRS) (DSDNI, 2012, p16 and Shaw, 2015 p8-9). The Fitness Standard does not incorporate factors such as energy/thermal efficiency and excess cold impacting on condensation dampness (Battersby, 2011b) masking the scale of poor housing conditions (Ormandy, nd).

As part of NI housing strategy, the Department of Social Development NI (DSDNI) made a commitment to review the Fitness Standard across all tenures with the objective of establishing an enhanced statutory minimum - to make the PRHS “a more attractive housing option for more people by improving standards and regulation” DSDNI, (2012, p16).

Considering the limited research relating to the prevalence and impact of condensation dampness in the PRHS NI and the timing of the DSDNI review, it was deemed prudent and relevant to raise the profile of housing and evaluate the impact of condensation dampness in the PRHS NI. A comparison of UK Statutory Housing Standards (Fitness Standard, HHSRS and Tolerable Standard) may determine which standard could better enable action addressing condensation dampness. If there is no legal president, remedial works are at the discretion of the landlord.

Research Findings/Conclusions

The Prevalence and Location of Dampness in the PRHS

The findings of this research indicate a high prevalence of dampness in the PRHS NI, with an overall 59.6% of tenants reporting experience of dampness. Approximately one third of tenants reported experience of indicators of condensation dampness including a smell of damp, condensation on windows and mould.  A further detailed investigation and analysis into the design, construction and repair of each dwelling, and occupant density and activity would be required to clarify if the dampness experienced by tenants is condensation dampness and not penetrating dampness. .  

The prominent location of dampness was reported as the bedroom 54.8%.  The prevalence of dampness in bedrooms and reports of mould growth associated with the dampness in tenants homes should be a matter of concern for public health intervention due to time spent in bedrooms and the substantive evidence on dampness and associated adverse health impacts (IOM, 2004; Mendell et al, 2011, p748 and WHO, 2009).

Heating and Ventilation Standards in the PRHS

The standard of heating systems in the PRHS were investigated and findings suggest compliance with the Fitness Standard and HHSRS, with the majority of households (82.7%) reporting central heating systems with radiators installed in their home.

In terms of ventilation standards, the majority of properties (92.3%) would appear to be compliant with the Fitness Standard, with one openable window in each room. However, it was noted that a significant number of properties did not have extract ventilation installed in the kitchen (24%) or bathroom (38.5%). The installation and use of extract ventilation would help reduce moisture and condensation within a dwelling.

Indicators of Fuel Poverty in the PRHS

The study found strong evidence of a statistically significant association between tenants heating specific rooms in the property and difficulty paying for heating
(X2(6) = 26.731, p .000); strong evidence of a statistically significant association between difficulty paying for heating and feeling comfortably warm (X2(1) = 18.481, p .000); and strong evidence of an association between income and difficulty paying for heat
(X2(7) = 17.472, p .015). These associations would strongly suggest that the majority of tenants in the PRHS are unemployed or on a low income, and are more likely to report difficulties paying for heat which leads them to heating specific rooms to reduce costs. These findings support literature that states cold, damp properties are frequently occupied by ‘fuel poor’ households. It also supports literature, finding a high level of unemployed and low income households in the PRHS, with high rates of turnover (less than one year) (Rudge, 2012, p10). The findings of the research also revealed no problems of over-occupation within the PRHS.

Insulation and Energy Efficiency standards in the PRHS

There was an apparent lack of knowledge and awareness among tenants regarding the standard of insulation in their home. Additionally, the large majority of tenants (84.6%) did not check the EPC rating of their home prior to moving in. Notwithstanding, there is evidence that improvements are possible to enhance the thermal response and energy efficient measures in properties which may positively impact on condensation dampness. There is limited scope to deal with such measures within the remit of the Fitness Standard i.e. such measures should only be considered if there is a lack of adequate heating. In comparison, the HHSRS considers energy efficiency under the hazard ‘Damp and mould”, and also considers thermal insulation and the settling of insulation under the hazard ‘Excess cold”, which may lead to enhanced powers to address a lack of thermal insulation and energy efficient measures.

It was considered that awareness interventions promoting the benefits of thermal insulation and energy efficient measures together with EPC ratings would benefit/empower tenants. Such interventions may increase competition with the PRHS and motivate landlords to enhance insulation/energy efficiency in their properties. At present there is little motivation for landlords to improve their properties.

Action taken my tenants in the PRHS to remedy Dampness

With regards action taken to address dampness issues, the majority of tenants (21.2%) reported contacting their landlord regarding issues of dampness, however 14.4% reported taking no action to remedy the dampness. A prominent 79% of tenants reported issues of dampness remained unresolved.

It was considered that information should be disseminated and targeted to tenants in the PRHS regarding the cause, impacts and prevention of condensation dampness, together with organisations who may be able to help. This is important from a public health perspective - A lack of maintenance/remedial works will detrimentally impact on the future quality of housing stock for future tenants who are most likely associated with ‘vulnerable’ groups in society. The PRHS must be capable of providing sustainable housing fit for future generations.

Powers to Action Dampness in the PRHS

Individually a lack of heating, ventilation, insulation may not be significant enough to action the Hazards ‘Dampness and Mould growth’ or ‘Excess Cold’ within the remit of the HHSRS, however a combined adverse impact of all defective and/or missing elements may be addressed if they result in dampness. An environmental health officer must determine the most appropriate course of action to remedy the damp which may not be an easy judgement considering the wide range of factors that impact on condensation dampness.

Having undertaken a comparative analysis of the UK statutory housing standards and relevance to the various factors impacting on condensation dampness, it is apparent the HHSRS details a wider range of factors for consideration by an EHO when deciding to take action, particularly in relation to dealing with damp and mould growth and also factors such as thermal insulation and energy efficiency measures. This would suggest that the HHSRS may better address dampness compared to the Fitness Standard. Further research is recommended.


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Battersby, S.A, (2011b) Are Private Sector Tenants Being Protected Adequately? A study of the Housing Act 2004, Housing Health and Safety Rating System and Local Authority Interventions in England. Report for Alison Seabeck MP and Karen Buck MP, available at: 
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Tagged In

Fitness, Private Tenancies

This article was written on 17 December 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.