Coroner Rules That Mould In Flat Caused Boy’s Death
The coroner’s conclusions in the case of Awaab Ishak, who was found to have died as a result of mould in his flat, are a sad indictment of the state of social housing in the UK today.
Awaab Ishak was a two year old boy who lived in local authority housing in Rochdale. The coroner concluded that his sad and untimely death in 2020 was a result of severe respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home. The mould had developed as a result of a lack of effective ventilation in the bathroom and kitchen, and in the property as a whole.
The landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, acknowledged that more should have been done to treat the mould. Unfortunately, in our experience as housing lawyers, it is no surprise to find landlords failing to take action in relation to mould (as well as in relation to other poor housing conditions such as leaks and damp).
In many cases we have seen landlords seek to blame severe mould on the tenants’ ‘lifestyle choices’; tenants tell us that all their landlords do when they complain about mould is give them a leaflet about preventing condensation dampness mould growth. Tenants are simply told to open their windows and avoid drying their clothes on radiators. It is rare for landlords to consider the causes of mould, such as lack of ventilation or poor insulation.
Awaab’s case highlights the dreadful conditions that tenants up and down the country are living in. Landlords blame them for causing the mould and fail to do anything about the problem. The photos of Awaab’s family’s flat, showing thick black mould covering the walls and floors, are sadly an all too common sight.
Prior to March 2019, when the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force, the actions that tenants could take against landlords in relation to condensation induced mould growth were limited. However, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 provided a way for tenants to bring claims against their landlords for damp and mould growth where those are found to be category 1 or 2 hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This has enabled more tenants to take action against their landlords to remedy damp and mould growth.
The depressing fact in this case is that Awaab’s landlord knew about the problem, but failed to do anything about it. This is an injustice that we are confronted with every day when helping tenants to take action to improve their housing conditions. Increasingly we find that landlords fail to take action even when we start legal proceedings. In some cases a tenant may have to take their claim almost all the way to trial before their landlord decides to take action to remedy the housing conditions. That can mean additional months, or even years, of living in poor housing conditions even after engaging lawyers to deal with a claim. On top of this, the government’s proposals to introduce fixed fees for such cases will make it impossible for lawyers to take on these kind of cases under Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs). The risk of non-recovery of costs incurred would be too high for law firms to offer such agreements. This will leave the most poor and vulnerable tenants with no legal representation to hold landlords accountable. Cases such as Awaab’s will only become more common.
In our experience the situation for tenants has worsened since the pandemic, and many social landlords appear to be operating in a state of almost permanent crisis. They fail to remedy poor housing conditions, and then when tenants start legal action they fail to respond. What is hidden from view is that at the heart of each legal case is a tenant living in poor housing conditions, often suffering with physical or mental health problems as a result, and feeling ignored by their landlords.
The case of Awaab Ishak shows the consequences of landlords failing to act. It shouldn’t take a legal claim to force landlords to remedy poor housing conditions, and it certainly shouldn’t take the death of a two year old boy who had his whole life ahead of him. Tenants deserve so much better.