Disturbing photos reveal huge problem for Aussie renters: 'Extremely toxic'

Could ignoring this ongoing issue be costing you your health?

As this summer brings us some of the muggiest days on record, renters across the country are being warned that it's likely to exacerbate an ongoing issue which continues to spark conflicts with real estate agents.

Many renters have taken to online forums to share their frustrations with mould growing all over their apartments and property managers' apparent lack of interest in helping them with the situation.

One renter feeling the impact of Sydney’s humid climate and soggy weather said she reported mould covered walls in her pantry to her real estate agent but got nowhere.

The mould in the pantry (left) and the temperature guage (right).
A Sydney woman snapped images of her mouldy pantry during the city's soaring humidity. Source: Facebook

“Our [property] manager is a 20-year-old kid who literally has no idea,” the woman wrote on Facebook. “I FaceTimed him and showed him, and he said to clean it with bleach and [to] get some moisture catchers from Coles. He says he may send a plumber to see if there is a leak behind the wall.”

In a series of photos taken from inside the woman’s pantry, dark black mould can be seen scattered across the white walls, while a photo of a temperature gauge shows the humidity at 87 per cent while the celsius sits at 23.5 degrees.

“The house is constantly humid (over 80 per cent) no matter what I do,” explained the woman, who’s lived in the property since August. “I’ve tried the ‘dry’ function on the aircon, I’ve tried having all windows open etc, but nothing changes it.”

Outrage over agent's response to mould

People commenting on the woman’s post were outraged by the real estate agent's advice. One woman, who said she was a professional cleaner, said the spots were “definitely black mould” and “cleaning them with bleach won’t fix the issue whatsoever”.

“It is extremely toxic and terrible for your health and I’d be demanding the real estate have someone in who can fix the issue ASAP as it’s detrimental to your health and safety," she wrote. “If it means they need to remove parts of the walls, that’s literally what needs to happen to make this a safe living environment.”

Others said that there must be a water leak “behind the wall or under the floor” or it “could be overflowing gutters or a blocked drain backing up”.

One person said: “It won’t dry until you find the source of the moisture.” Most urged the woman to approach her real estate agent again in writing, and as one person wrote: “demand that this be rectified”.

Many other renters took to the comments to say that they were experiencing the same problems. TikTok user @pnuks shared a video this week of how much water came from his new air-conditioner in a few hours after he turned the dehumidifier feature on.

Renters urged to take action

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for real estate agents not to take mould issues seriously, and to sometimes even blame the renter, according to Leo Patterson Ross, the CEO of the Tenants’ Union of NSW.

“We often see these kinds of disputes coming out of basically a dispute about whether tenants are treating their property well, and unfortunately it seems that lots of people are told that it must be them and their behaviour, even when it’s pretty clear that there’s a problem with the building,” Patterson Ross told Yahoo News Australia.

“There isn’t really consideration first of whether it could be the building. It’s sort of assumed to be the tenant.”

Mould on an Aussie renter's ceiling.
Another Aussie renter took to Facebook to share her mould problem. Source: Facebook

So, what can renters do if they’ve reported mould damage to their real estate agent but they’re not getting anywhere?

The first step is to put a request for a repair in writing, with a clear deadline, and keep records of any correspondence. Then, if the landlord does not promptly arrange for repairs, tenants can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for orders.

Mould issue set to get worse

Environmental epidemiologist and Senior Research Fellow at UNSW, Dr Christine Cowie told Yahoo News Australia that mould issues are likely to get worse this summer.

“The conditions are perfect really, for mould growth,” Cowie said, just weeks after Sydney’s dew point, a measure of humidity, hit 26.7 degrees — the highest ever recorded at Sydney’s Observatory Hill.

“You can expect to get mould growth when under really humid conditions and especially if it’s rained and houses have leaks or there are other building defects where you’ve got rising damp that allows mould to grow. Or where you don’t have adequate ventilation inside a home, well the humidity is only going to exacerbate that really because it’s just not going to dry the air.”

While Cowie says mould is a type of fungi found in the natural environment and “very common” in homes, it’s the spores that mould produces which are not visible to the naked eye that are problematic.

“In many people, they won’t cause any symptoms, but exposure to mould in the home has been linked to an increase in sensitivity,” she said.

“In other words, people can develop an allergy to mould and it’s associated with common symptoms like sneezing, having a runny nose, nasal congestion, headaches, irritated eyes as well as skin, and they've been found in some studies to be associated with a higher risk of triggering asthma exacerbations, or what we used to call asthma attacks.”

It’s these incidents which can prove fatal. “People can, and still do, die of asthma attacks,” Cowie added, while explaining that the spores can also cause people to develop a severe mould infection, usually in the lungs, from breathing in large amounts of specific allergens over a period of time.

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