We have a damp report

Lambeth Council has released their report on damp on our estate. And it’s damning.

The report says our landlords “have been aware for a number of years, that there are significant structural defects to the fabric of buildings” but rather than fix the issue they ‘routinely assume that the “lifestyle” and “behaviour” of residents is the primary factor for the presence of condensation damp and mould in fiats. No objective or quantifiable evidence has been produced to support these assertions’.

The surveyors will launch virtual inspection of inspected flats soon. We should know details by the end of the year and “Residents from affected dwellings and St Mann’s Residents Association should be consulted on any proposed inspection regime”. This will provide proof as to whether severe hazards are present. There is a “duty on local authorities to take enforcement action, where a category 1 hazard exists”

We can’t publish the full report as it contains personal information. But here is the executive summary and the conclusion

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2. The 2017 St Martin’s Estate Disaggregation Report states, the St Martin’s Estate in Lambeth contains a total of 1371 buildings, comprising of a split of properties between General Needs, Leaseholders, Freehold, Garages and Commercial Community. The properties were disaggregated to their respective owners: three Registered Provider’s (RP’s); Optivo, Notting Hill Genesis (NH(S); and Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTH), at the of end of March 2017
3. At the time of the disaggregation, NHG formerly Notting Hill Housing (NHH) appeared to control 244 residential dwellings comprising fiats, maisonettes, and houses, with 154 General Needs dwellings. The ownership of the remaining 953 residential dwellings, and of the 684 General Needs dwellings is ambiguous and remains so.
4. Based on data gleaned from the 2017 Disaggregation Report there are potentially 1,197 homes4 across a split of tenures, which may be affected by a number of adverse housing conditions, and 838 General Needs dwellings, in particular which may require statutory inspections.
5. The Housing Act 2004 – Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is the statutory minimum standard for all dwellings in England and Wales regardless of whether they are privately owned, rented, owned by Council’s or other Social Housing Providers (RP’s).
6. HHSRS, is an evidence-based system for assessing housing conditions. The HHSRS (England) Regulations 2005 provide a description of hazards and prescribe the method for assessing the seriousness of hazards and the manner and extent of inspections to ascertain whether category 1 or 2 hazards exist.
7. Local Authorities have a range of enforcement powers available to ensure residents do not have to live in unsafe, unhealthy homes. The Act imposes a duty on local authorities to take enforcement action, where a category 1 hazard exists and gives discretion to act where a category 2 hazard exists.
8. Under HHSRS, a list of 29 hazards is considered. The risk assessment of the dwelling looks at the likelihood of an incident arising from the condition of the propeny, and the likely harmful outcome.
9. The HHSRS hazard profiles include Physiological requirements; Hygrothermal conditions and Non-MicrobiaI Pollutants; Damp and Mould Growth. A HHSRS assessment involves a two stage scoring process that firstly, addresses the likelihood of harm occurring from a hazard and secondly, the range of harm that may result.
10. A statutory nuisance is an act or omission which has been designated a nuisance by statute e.g. in Part Ill of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. All statutory nuisances are two-limbed and designed to deal with conditions which are either “prejudicial to health” or a “nuisance”. “Prejudicial to health” means injurious, or likely to cause injury, to health.
11. Statutory nuisance is therefore intended to identity the situations where there is an unacceptable interference with the personal comfort, wellbeing or amenity of an occupier; neighbours, or the nearby community and or where personal risks to health can occur. Statutory nuisance protects people not property, there is no need for the person (occupier / resident affected by the nuisance to have property rights.
12. Any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance may be deemed to be giving rise to a statutory nuisance for the purposes of Section of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
13. The state of a premises relates to disrepair to a dwelling. The conditions for statutory nuisance can arise from a single item of disrepair, such as a leaking roof, or several minor items. It is the actual effect of the defect or disrepair at any premises or neighbouring premiSes that gives rise to the nuisance, rather than the disrepair itself.
14. Dampness, condensation, or mould growth are all examples of defects in premises that could render a dwelling as either giving rise to nuisance or be deemed prejudicial to health. However, a landlord is not liable if the conditions occur due to conduct by the occupier which has resulted in the conditions, such as the occupier’s failure to use a heating system progeny.
15. In all cases, before dismissing or conflating the cause of damp and mould as resulting from an occupant’s lifestyle, an objective assessment involving a systematic inspection regime should be completed. Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) are the recognised experts for undertaking both HHSRS and nuisance assessments.
16. An amalgam of 16 documents comprising partial extemal surveys, reports and 6 intemal inspections reports of flats, undertaken between 2017-2019, were provided by Notting Hill Genesis (NHG). The Stock Condition Overview & Investment Report, 2017 provides an overview of the general condition of the blocks, houses, and maisonettes on St Martin’s Estates. The remaining documents relate to cyclical reports of external works to some of the blocks, and 6 responsive investigations where damp and mould conditions had been reported by residents in their flats.
17. A single block condition survey report undertaken between July 2019 and November 2019 was provided by Optivo. The 2019 Reports contains a survey; and assessment of extemal conditions of 32 blocks, and intemal conditions of 2 flats.
18. Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) have onty provided an undated and untitléd statement of commitment, that a block condition survey would be undetaken; and a protected Excel spreadsheet10 containing 26,289 address entries listing inspections of properties between 2006 and 2019. The protected Excel spreadsheet does not allow any advanced interrogation. However, at least 10,115 of the entries relate to ‘HEALTH & SAFETY RATINGS,” which appear to correspond to HHSRS hazards, of which; 675 entnes relate to damp; 553 entries relate to cold; 350 entries relate to mould; and 145 entries relate to condensation. It is unclear whether the entries relate to the same propenes or multiple properties.
19. Neither the 2017 NHH Report nor the undated MTVH commitment statement detail how many or which blocks were or Will be surveyed. The total number of dwellings affected by damp and mould on St Mann’s Estate is unknown.
20. The remaining 19 documents provided by St Martin’s Residents Association comprise complaints of damp (and in some cases mould), within 87 separate residential dwellings.
21. The 2019 Optivo Reporti4 and the 2017 NHH Report describe the extemal conditions of blocks surveyed. Both reports find evidence of disrepair, which could result in water ingress into numerous blocks from rainwater leakage, rising damp and penetrating damp. The total number of blocks affected by damp and mould on St Martin’s Estate is unknown.
22. The 2019 Optivo Report describes the levels of dampness found within two dwellings inspected intemalty. It is suggested that the presence of dampness is caused by a structural defect; “cold-bridging condensation* and high relative humidity within the flats.
23. The documentation provided by NHG includes five intemal NHH Repairs Inspection Reports (2017-2019)18, and one NHH Intemal Survey Report (2017)12, which were undetaken folowing complaints by residents of damp and mould. Each Report confirms the presence of damp and mould n the dwellings inspected. There is a suggestion by assessors surveyors, that the primary cause of damp and mould within dwellings is as a result of lifestyle of occupants. However; there is an absence of any objective evidence to support this assumption
24. On the contrary, a review of the documentary evidence suggests that structural issues; including poor design, cold extemal walls, inadequate thermal insulation, and localised cold-bridging are significant contributory factors, and more likely to be the cause of the damp and mould within residential dwellings
25. Reports and documentation reviewed confirm that all of the eight dwellings surveyed and assessed intemally; contain elements of disrepair and defects, such as cold-bridging, and poor design.
26. Reports provided via St Martin’s Residents Association confirm the prevalence of damp and mould within dwellings. Affected areas include; living rooms, toilets, bathrooms, bedrooms, hallways, storerooms, around windows, balconies, in built in wardrobes. Mould and damp conditions are further present on pipes, ceilings, walls, and inside cupboards.
27. The intemal environment within dwellings can only be reasonably and effectively regulated by residents if the structure and fabric of the building is free from defects and deficiencies.
28. Cold external walls must have adequate thermal insulation to ensuire there is minimal temperature differential between external and internal walls, within the dwelling. This will minimise the risk of surface condensation damp and mould. This is the responsibility of the landlord, and outside occupier’s control
29. The underlying principle of HHSRS is that residential premises provide a safe and healthy environment, and that buildings fail to safety.
30. Overall, there is a paucity of objective quantitative date provided by the RP’s in respect of the conditions withini the 838 General Needs dwellings; and wheterh the wellings and free from statutory nuisance, and or meet the requirements of HHSRS
31. The limited data provided by RP’s and the Excel spreadsheet provided by MTVH suggest that as many as 10,115 entries relate to “HEALTH & SAFETY RATINGS,” which appear to correspond to HHSRS hazards. It is, therefore , possible that a significant number of dwellings many not comply with statutory minimum standards for dwellings, and or be affected by a statutory nusiance.
32. Complaints of persistent damp and mould causing a risk of harm to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier, should be properly and systematically assessed by EHPs through a HHSRS assessment, to ascertain if category 1 or 2 haxard, and or whether a statutory nuisance is present within each dwelling.
33. The total number of dwellings affected by damp on St Martins Estate is unkown. The starting basis for any inspection regime should be the 87 dwellings identified by St Martins Residents Association as containing unsatisfactory conditions.
34. The identification of defects and deficiencies relating to the structure of the building and effective useof the heating and ventilation systems, requires an individual HHSRS assessment for each separate affected dwelling. This will enable a determination to be made in respect of any hazards present, whether category 1 or 2 hazards exist, and whether each dwelling meets the statutory minimum standard for all dwellings.
35. Residents from affected dwellings and St Mann’s Residents Association should be consulted on any proposed inspection regime, and their input and co-operation invited to enable all defective dwellings to be identified, inspected, and assessed.
36. In View of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising Reproduction (R) Rate, which may result in London wide, local area, based lockdowns over the winter months, and potential for a further national lockdown; it is recommended that a programme of Visual Inspections (VI) and remote HHSRS (RHHSRS) assessments should be implemented.
37. A well designed and planned VI and RHHSRS program, in partnership with RP’s and residents, should be implemented without any futther delays, to enable a systematic evidence-based estate wide assessment to be completed. This would quantity the number of residential dwellings affected and allOw targeted repairs and remedial works to be completed by landlords and may well obviate the need for formal statutory enforcement action. This would additionally reassure residents and RP’s that the dwellings are all capable of providing safe homes for residents.
38. On completion of any repairs, where objective evidence of contributory actions or inactions by tenants are identified, such as inadequate use of the heating system due to issues of fuel povety; then a victim blaming approach should be avoided. Any such issues can and should be separately managed sensitively through a suppotive, non-accusatory help and advice campaign
39. In this context RP’s may wish to incorporate a program of education and training for their personnel and surveyors for complaint management through a holistic, victim orientated approach. Consideration should also be given for strategies to alleviate fiscal barriers, enabling uptake of fuel allowances, and support to overcome practical, social, cultural, and psychological barriers faced by residents.

Conclusion

  1. The Desktop Review identifies there are potentially 1, 197 homes across a split of tenures, which may be affected by a number of adverse housing conditions.
  2. There are 838 General Needs dwellings, which may require statutory inspections.
  3. The total number of blocks affected by damp and mould on St Mann’s Estate is unknown.
  4. The RP’s have been aware for a number of years, that there are significant structural defects to the fabric of buildings and rainwater services, which could result in water ingress from rainwater leakage, rising damp and penetrating damp.
  5. The RP’s are further aware that the defects within various premises under their control have resulted in unsatisfactory livng conditions giving rise to damp and mould within dwellings.
  6. There is an inherent victim blaming approach adopted by RP’s and their personnel and third party assessors I surveyors, who routinely assume that the “lifestyle” and “behaviour” of residents is the primary factor for the presence of condensation damp and mould in fiats. No objective or quantifiable evidence has been produced to support these assertions.
  7. On the contrary; it is more likely than not, that structural defects, poor design or deficiencies in thermal insulation are the causative factors for damp and mould, given the observations of the assessor / surveyor recorded in their reports.
  8. Reports provided via St Martin’s Residents Association confirm the widespread prevalence of damp and mould within dwellings across the Estate. Affected areas include living rooms, toilets, bathrooms, bedrooms, hallways, storerooms, around windows, balconies, in built in wardrobes. Mould and damp conditions are additionally present on pipes, ceilings, walls, and inside cupboards.
  9. Complaints of persistent damp and mould causing a risk of ham to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier; should be properly and systematically assessed through HHSRS assessments, to ascertain if category 1 or 2 hazard, and or a statutory nuisance is present within each separate dwelling.
  10. Residents from affected dwellings and St Mann’s Residents Association should be closely consulted on any proposed inspection regime, and their input and co-operation invited to enable, all defective dwellings to be properly identified, inspected, and assessed.
  11. Inspections and RHHSRS assessments undertaken through the use of VIS could commence immediately and would not be subject to protracted delays resulting from imminent COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, or delays resulting from no access site visits.
  12. On completion of any repairs, where objective evidence of contributory actions or inactions by tenants are identified, such as inadequate use of the heating system, due to issues of fuel poverty; then a victim blaming approach should be avoided. Any such issues can and should be separately managed sensitively through a supportive, nan-accusatory help and advice campaign
  13. In this context RP’s in their function, as social housing providers and landlords may wish to incorporate a program of education and training for their personnel and surveyors for complaint management through a holistic, victim orientated approach. Consideration should also be given for strategies to alleviate fiscal barriers, enabling uptake of fuel allowances, and support to overcome practical, social, cultural, and psychological barriers faced by residents.
  14. A well designed and planned VI program in partnership with RP’s and residents could be implemented, without any further delays and would enable a systematic evidence-based estate Wide assessment to be completed. This would quantity the number of residential dwellings affected and reassure residents, and RP’s that all dwellings within St Mann’s Estate are capable of providing safe homes for residents.


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