The accidental landlord: my bathroom horror scene – minus corpse

Hunting for a solution to tenants who are happy to live with mould, Victoria Whitlock finds a squeegee merchant
You cannot underestimate how important it is to keep an eye on your property when it’s let. It is shocking just how quickly a home can start to disintegrate unless it’s well looked after. If you think your tenants will take care of it, listen carefully and you’ll hear the sound of me cackling.

Bathrooms and kitchens are the areas most likely to suffer wear and tear so it’s vital you or your managing agent call round to inspect the property every six months or so. The tenants shouldn’t mind you popping in, as long as you warn them first.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get round to visiting my rental flat until the latest group of renters had been there for nine months or so. And when I walked into the bathroom — oh my God — I recoiled in horror.

Admittedly nobody had been butchered in the bath (although there was an alarming blood-red streak down one of the walls).

No, the main problem was that almost the entire room had gone mouldy. The white ceiling, which had been freshly painted 12 months earlier, the grout between the white tiles that I’d scrubbed until they sparkled, the white sealant that I’d replaced around the bath — all were covered in vile black spores.

Tenants often blame a landlord for mould, but it’s not as black and white as that, if you’ll pardon the pun. Landlords are responsible for making sure that there isn’t a problem with damp and that rooms have adequate heat and ventilation, but — as I’ve written in this column before — it’s the tenant’s responsibility to ensure that rooms are kept warm and aired.

If mould does start to grow, despite the tenant’s best efforts to prevent it, they should inform the landlord straight away, otherwise they might be held at least partially responsible for any damage. Landlords can’t be expected to mend things if they don’t know they are broken.

Mould thrives in damp, dark and cold conditions, so it’s always a battle to keep a bathroom clear, but the one in my flat has an extractor fan, a window that can be opened to let steam escape and is centrally heated.

The property is let to three sharers so the bathroom gets a lot of use, but mould was never a problem with previous tenants. I suspect this lot aren’t heating the place adequately (that’s a downside of not including energy bills in the rent) and they’re leaving shampoo bottles, shower gel, soap and razors on the edge of the shower, where they trap water.

I could have left the mould, since the tenants seemed oblivious to the mess, but it would only have got worse. Instead I paid a handyman to repaint the ceiling with mould-resistant paint and replace the sealant round the bath and shower area with anti-mould silicone.

I turned to Twitter to ask for advice on keeping it mould-free in future and someone suggested cladding the walls and ceiling with uPVC boards, which is somewhat expensive. My handyman also recommended installing a heated towel rail, but that’s not cheap either. Alternatively, he suggested I ask the tenants to wipe the bath and shower area every day to remove moisture.

“Buy them a squeegee,” he shouted as he left. “It’ll save you a fortune.”

I found one specifically for showers at Lakeland (lakeland.co.uk) which, at £2.49, was what I think you could call a more cost-effective solution.

As for the suspicious red streak, which I hadn’t cared to examine too closely, my handyman’s professional opinion was that it was hair dye.

Ha! I always suspected that redhead wasn’t natural.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

* Find homes to rent at www.homesandproperty.co.uk/lettings

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