Water defects causing mouldy apartments across Australia

Picture: Close-up of a shocked woman looking at mould on the wall.

A Deakin University report has found water damage is one of the biggest problems facing apartment building owners across the country.

Lead researcher Dr Nicole Johnston said water defects could lead to serious problems like mould.

“Mould that has arisen due to water penetration defects is often present and has the potential to lead to serious health implications for residents,” she said.

“The lack of care by trades in properly managing mould often leads to spores embedding or remaining in lots. And for lot owners there are also financial impacts. The type of defects we commonly observed require invasive and often costly remedial works to rectify.”

While some homes have been deemed unliveable due to the extent of mould present, mould can be found in most buildings – whether it’s growing under the kitchen sink, on your bathroom tiles or in the cupboards.

Five ideas to reduce mould growth

  1. Windows: Homes should be designed with windows to provide adequate natural lighting and ventilation. In some Australian states, bathrooms are required to have a window and/or a fan to reduce mould growth.
  2. Fans: Mould can be prevented by keeping your home dry and ventilated. This can be done by installing exhaust fans in the bathroom and in the kitchen. Sometimes windows are not adequate and additional measures are required.
  3. Airconditioning: Airconditioning can be more costly, but it can help to keep your home cool during summer and help in reducing mould growth by keeping the home dry.
  4. Dehumidifiers: One way to reduce humidity is by installing dehumidifiers in a home. They should be put in bathrooms or in wardrobes.
  5. Plants: Mould often grows in the soil of household plants. If you’d like to reduce the amount of mould in your home you could replace your real plants with false plants and flowers.

How to deal with mould in a strata managed property

When you share a building with other people, unexpected problems can arise. We’ve received a number of StrataFAQ reports about water leaks and plumbing problems that have led to water damage and mould. While all strata managed buildings have insurance, not all problems are covered. Here are some of the StrataFAQ questions and answers, which may be able to help you:

Question: The ceilings and walls of my top floor apartment have damage from water ingress through the roof. The bathroom has sudden black mould. Who is responsible for the costs of rectification?

Answer: If you are a tenant you will need to report the matter to your real estate agent. However if you are an owner, you may ask your owners corporation manager for a plan of sub division to check who owns the ceiling and walls. If the roof is on common property, an owner can claim internal damage on the owners corporation insurance policy (if it is not wear and tear). This will be advised by your owners corporation insurance broker.

Question: My apartment and bathroom have had rising damp issues for some year now due to lack of membrane. Do I pay for replacement toilet / vanity / door / ceiling etc. when this is not a cosmetic renovation but a major renovation?

Answer: Each incident of damp would need to be looked at separately as there would be different causes. For example, the damp may have been caused by rising damp or overflowing dishwashers.

Generally, the lot owner would be liable for repairing and maintaining the vanity, toilet and door if it is an internal door, plus any paintwork or wallpaper on the ceiling. However, if may be worth asking your insurance company and the owners corporation’s insurance company for their comments as some damage may be claimable.

You should keep any evidence in the form of photographs, time and date logs of the incidents and any email communication you have had with your owners corporation and strata manager. This will help you get the matter looked at in detail while making any insurance claims.

Question: My neighbour’s shower leaked and the strata fixed it but the plumbers put holes in the wall and the water damaged by wall, floors and kitchen cupboards. Is the strata responsible?

Answer: If you’re a tenant you will need to report the matter to your real estate agent who will address the owners corporation. However, if you are an owner we recommend documenting the damage with photos and times, then sending this to your strata manager. The strata manager may claim damage to internal features on the owners corporation insurance policy. You can request a copy of your strata plan from your strata manager. This document should determine in writing, which party is responsible for areas in your plan.

If you would like more information relating to a specific situation, ask a question on stratafaq.com.au. Find out how to protect your property from unexpected costs related to building defects with a free guide on the lessons learnt from the Opal Tower and Mascot Towers saga.