The landlord of the flat that was home to a two-year-old boy who died as a result of prolonged mold exposure has admitted that he made false assumptions about his family’s lifestyle when they complained.
Awaab Ishak’s parents, who are originally from Sudan, last week accused Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) of racism for dealing with the damp and mold they faced. Despite complaints, the landlord failed to fix the mold or improve ventilation and had suggested that issues such as bathing habits and cooking techniques could be a cause when they were not.
A week after a coroner ruled that the child died of severe respiratory disease caused by mold in the council house, RBH said: “We made assumptions about lifestyle and we accept that we were wrong. We will be implementing refresher courses throughout the organization. We abhor racism in any form and we know we have a responsibility to all of our communities.”
Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levels, housing and communities, said in parliament last week that he agreed the family had “prejudice”. Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, an asylum seeker from Sudan, had raised the problem of mold in the flat on the Freehold estate in Rochdale in 2017 before Awaab was born. He was commissioned to paint over it, which he did several times. As the problem persisted, he asked for the family to be relocated in 2018. In 2020, a health visitor raised concerns about the mold and a repair manager inspected, but nothing was done. Awaab’s breathing deteriorated and he died in December 2020.
The admission of making false assumptions comes after the landlord fired its CEO, Gareth Swarbrick, over the weekend after saying RHB had given him its “full support” just days earlier.
In his latest apology, issued via a series of tweets, the landlord said: “We want to start by saying again how sorry we are for the loss of Awaab. We know that our words will not take away the pain of his family, nor will they instantly heal the pain and strength of feeling rightly felt in Rochdale and across the country.
It added: “Our entire organisation, made up of caring and passionate colleagues, is totally focused on making things right for our customers, the people of Rochdale and the wider community and industry. However, we know that we are completely wrong.”
It said it had begun taking action and would significantly speed up the inspection of every home it visits for moisture and mold and would take immediate action where necessary.
The social housing regulator on Tuesday directed all landlords with more than 1,000 homes to report their most recent assessment of the magnitude of damp and mold hazards, the steps they are taking to address them and the process they must follow to quickly eliminate damp. identify and address in detail. and form cases when raised by tenants.
“The tragic case of Awaab Ishak has rightly drawn attention to the responsibility of all registered providers to ensure that the properties they offer are well maintained and of a decent quality,” said Fiona MacGregor, the director of the regulator. “The case demonstrates the serious impact that having damp and mold in homes can have on people’s health and highlighted once again the importance of providers listening to their tenants’ concerns, understanding their varying needs, addressing barriers to remove access to services and respond quickly.”