Mold is quite an insidious tenant in any property—rented or owned, commercial or residential, nobody wants mold around. And it’s really not surprising, as it can cause significant health problems, including rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, memory loss and reduced brain functions, hemorrhaging, asthma—and that’s just to name a few.
Although the naturally humid climates of California, Texas and across the Southern United States usually experience more cases of mold than in other areas, mold can grow just about anywhere water is present. And all those health problems we mentioned? There is considerable debate within the scientific and medical communities about mold, particularly about which molds in what situations actually cause serious health risks to people. That’s because many molds are perfectly harmless to humans, and it takes an expert to know which mold is just annoying and which is dangerous.
In rental situations, tenants certainly don’t want exposure to mold, especially if they have children or elderly people living in the unit. Landlords definitely don’t want the lawsuits, especially since millions have been won against landlords in cases across the country, but are they willing to do the work to prevent them? And as a tenant, what are your rights?
Luckily, California is one of the few states that has taken steps towards establishing mold standards and what is or isn’t permissible. Other states include Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas. (Thank goodness New Jersey does, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy!) We’re lucky, as in many cases landlord responsibilities regarding mold have not been clearly spelled out in building codes, ordinances, statutes or regulations, making it even harder for tenants to win any litigation.
Our state’s Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001 authorizes California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to set permissible levels of indoor mold exposure for “sensitive populations”, which means children or those with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems. Over the years, the DHCS has started implementing the Act, developing standards for identification and remediation that contractors, owners and landlords have to follow, and requires landlords to disclose the presence of any known or suspected mold to any current of prospective tenants.
San Francisco has gone even further, enacting a local law to count mold as a legal nuisance, which puts it in the same category of trash accumulation or vermin infestation. That means that both tenants and health inspectors can sue landlords under this law if they fail to clean up serious problems.
Yet there still is a “duty to repair” for landlords, whether or not your state or city has laws for mold. For example, mold can be caused by a landlord failing to perform maintenance on the property, like fixing roof or plumbing leaks. As this is the cause of most mold infestations, it is likely that a tenant can hold the landlord responsible. This works both ways, though—if the tenant has done something like leaving windows open during a rainstorm or failing to maintain a certain level of cleanliness, the tenant can be held responsible.
As a tenant, read your lease carefully. As a landlord, try to maintain a high level of upkeep on your properties to avoid any mold problems. In any case, if you feel you have a mold problem, call a professional like us to assess the damage and provide an estimate for remediation. If you feel you have a case against a landlord or tenant, we recommend you seek legal advice before acting—this article should not be considered legal advice. We know what we’re best at, and that’s water, fire and mold remediation, and we’re happy to help. Call us now: 877-732-8471.
Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net