Image by Craig Whitehead - a man wipes condensation from a window

There is condensation in my flat

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Condensation is a common problem in tower blocks, and it can add to issues with mould or damp.

You’ll notice water on the inside of your windows, especially on colder days. If the problem is serious, there might be peeling paint or black mould on the walls and ceilings.

What causes condensation?

Condensation happens when warm air with a high moisture content (like the air inside your flat) hits cold surfaces (like the windows).

Living causes condensation Showers and baths, central heating, drying wet laundry indoors, large fish tanks, boiling kettles and cooking — even just people breathing — all add to the moisture content of air in your flat. 

Buildings cause condensation The construction of your block can play a part. In blocks where windows are sealed or kept closed most of the time, there is nowhere for the air to get in and out, and the moisture collects as condensation.

Poor insulation in buildings can also be a major factor in condensation dampness, because it causes internal walls to be colder. Also, some houses are difficult to heat, without spending an excessive amount on heating. If, as a result, rooms are cold, that can cause condensation dampness to occur.

Good building design will incorporate extractor fans to remove the moist air, windows that can be opened a little whenever needed, better insulation, and affordable heating. 

There is also some benefit from keeping a constant temperature in your flat, rather than having bursts of heat in the day and a colder period in the night. 

What does the law say?

Your landlord’s responsibilities

The relevant law is the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, section 11. Your landlord is responsible for keeping the exterior and structure of your flat in good repair. So, if the condensation is caused by disrepair, they must fix it. 

In England and Wales, the way the law is written means that if the issue is caused by the design of your building, rather than by disrepair, this will not apply. 

The position is different in Scotland. Under schedule 4 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, the first duty of the landlord is to ensure that the house is, at the commencement of the tenancy, wind and watertight, and “in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation” and to keep it in that condition throughout the tenancy.

Accordingly, if the landlord lets a house which, because of its design, is subject to condensation dampness when tenants occupy it, the landlord will be in breach of their duty.  

But your landlord must also continue to ensure that your flat is ‘fit for habitation‘. So if the condensation is leading to mould or damp and that is likely to make, or is making you ill, they must do something about it. 

The law is set out in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.

In addition, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, introduced under the Housing Act 2004, lists potential hazards that landlords must address, including mould and damp.

Also see the ‘further information’ section below.

Your responsibilities

It is worth thinking about your own activities or changes you have made to the flat. If they are causing the condensation, it may be your responsibility to fix it. 

For example, if you have blocked a source of ventilation, or are regularly drying wet laundry in a closed room, your landlord is not responsible — and you may, in some cases, be breaking your tenancy agreement.

However, lack of proper ventilation by the tenant  is only one possible cause of condensation dampness. As already described, it may be difficult to ventilate a house without it becoming uncomfortably cold. Poor insulation, or difficulty in achieving affordable heating, may also be the main reason behind it. Condensation dampness can also happen as a result of the relationship between insulation, heating and ventilation.

Where tenants complain of condensation dampness, it is not uncommon for landlords to advise tenants that this is due to way in which they are heating or ventilating the house. In other words, they suggest that the tenant is causing the problem.

That may be true in some cases. But in other instances, the true cause of the problem may be disrepair, or the design of the building.

It may require the advice of an expert, such as a surveyor or an architect, to clarify the true cause of the problem. However, if multiple tenants, in a block, are having problems with condensation dampness, it will be more difficult for the landlord to argue that the problem is due to the behaviour of individual tenants. 

What action can I take?

  • Keep a record of the problem. Take photos and date them, so you can prove how long the issue has been going on, if needed. 
  • If the condensation is leading to mould or damp, see this page for more details on what to do.
  • Contact your landlord to tell them of the problem.

Not sure what to write? You can copy this letter.

  • Clearly state what you would like them to do. You might ask your landlord to fit extractor fans in areas such as bathrooms or kitchens, or ensure that windows can be opened.
  • If your heating schedule is set centrally, ask your landlord to consider keeping a constant temperature rather than a schedule of warm and cold periods.
  • If your neighbours have the same issues, consider joining or starting a residents’ action group so you can work together to get things changed.
  • If you have made requests to your landlord, but nothing gets fixed, you might contact your local representative to ask for help.
  • You may consider legal actionSee more information on the Shelter website (or this page on the Shelter website, for Scottish tenants) and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau’s site.
  • If you are able to get Legal Aid, through a solicitor, that may pay for the cost of an expert to provide an opinion on the cause of the condensation dampness.  

Meanwhile:

  • Keep windows open and ensure good ventilation.
  • If possible, don’t dry your washing indoors. Use a washing line or communal drying area, or put an airer on your balcony.
  • Use a dehumidifier.
  • Move furniture a little way away from walls so the air can circulate behind.

Further information

  • In England and Wales, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 amended the law which was already set out in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, so you might need to look at section 9A to 10 of the 1985 Act for the basic detail that underlies the current rules. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System can be enforced by you through the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 or by Environmental Health unless your landlord is the local authority.

    Even if your landlord is the local authority, there is a duty on the local housing authority (LHA) under the Housing Act 2004 to keep housing conditions in their area under review with a view to identifying any action that may need to be taken by them under the Act (section 3(1)).

    Any deficiencies identified will contribute to a hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This does not exclude the LHA’s own property.
  • In Scotland, social landlords (including local authorities and housing associations) have repairing duties under schedule 4 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. The main duty is to ensure that the house is, at the commencement of the tenancy, wind and watertight, and ‘in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation’ and to keep the house in that condition throughout the tenancy. Where a house cannot be comfortably lived in, or affordably heated, without being subject to condensation dampness, then it is not ‘in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation’. See more about landlords’ obligations in Scotland here.

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