“There is sometimes a bit of inevitability on the part of social landlords that dampness and mold will happen,” says Richard Blakeway, head of the housing ombudsman.
“That shouldn’t be the case, we want the industry to change that mindset so owners have a strategic response [to the issues] and there shouldn’t be this fatality.
Inside the housing speaks to Mr Blakeway a month after the Housing Ombudsman, which was set up to look into residents’ complaints against council landlords, published its Spotlight report investigating damp and mold problems in council housing and owner responses.
The report, which analyzed 410 ombudsman inspections, caused ripples in the industry after revealing a ranking chart of the worst performing landlords.
While denunciation and shaming is a key part of the ombudsman’s new approach to strengthening standards, sharing best practices is equally essential. As a result, since Mr Blakeway was appointed chief executive, the organization has issued similar reports on topics that are driving complaints from residents. These have so far focused on handling complaints about various issues such as upholstery, repairs, heating and hot water.
The moisture and mold report, released in October, is arguably one of the most impactful to date. Title It’s not a lifestyle, this indicates a common belief that dampness and mold are a result of the way tenants live and the condition in which they keep their homes. It’s something Mr Blakeway wants to dispel as a myth and said he hopes it is ‘banished from the vernacular of homeowners when they talk about damp and mould’.
The report contains 26 recommendations, which are based on surveys of 142 landlords and more than 500 submissions to the Call for Evidence process.
The core of the Ombudsman’s message is that landlords take a zero tolerance approach to dampness and mold. What Mr. Blakeway and his colleagues discovered is a culture where homeowners expect moisture and mold problems to occur and react, often inadequately, when they do occur. He wants that to change and believes owners can be much more proactive in their approach.
This includes regular inspections and using complaint data to anticipate any issues. “Owners need to ask themselves, ‘If we have this problem here, what does it mean for other buildings in our portfolio?’ he says.
“The appearance of damp and mold will have been increased by renovation measures, so as owners carry out more of this work and make their plans, they need to think about the unforeseen consequences that could be on things like this “
But isn’t that tricky with the competing pressures of building safety and zero-carbon requirements?
Mr. Blakeway admits that the operating environment is currently complex for owners with many issues to resolve. Nevertheless, he thinks it offers an opportunity. With owners controlling their stock more concertedly than ever, for coating and durability reasons, this could provide them with a better understanding of stock status.
He also believes that moisture and mold should be considered when planning and executing changes.
“The appearance of damp and mold will have been increased by the renovation measures, so as owners carry out more of this work and make their plans, they need to think about the unforeseen consequences that could be on things like this “, explains Mr. Blakeway.
While more strategic upstream work is needed across the sector, moisture issues will continue to occur. When they did occur, owners sometimes struggled to effectively engage and rectify.