A Concerning Issue
Mold and the health hazards associated with it have been a hot topic for discussion recently. There are news articles about homes, buildings, and even schools being shut down due to toxic mold infestation. With so much attention being brought to the matter, we field questions every day from concerned renters. In this article I am going to address four common topics that arise regularly.
Avoid Properties with Mold
The first step for renters is to try their best to avoid a leasing property that is infested with mold. The most important things you can do when looking at potential properties is to ask as many questions as possible and to watch for potential red flags. While you’re walking through the property be sure to ask the landlord or property manager questions like “Has the property suffered from any water damage recently? Busted water pipes, leaky roofs, water seeping in through the foundation etc.” If the answer is yes be sure to ask how and when the problem was addressed. While asking questions is great, the property owner or manager may not be aware of a problem, so be sure to inspect the property also. A musty or stale smell can often times be a sign of a mold problem. Another thing to be aware of is how humid the property is, is it sticky or does it feel like it just rained? Is the property near a large body of water? Mold thrives in these humid conditions. Other things to be aware of are water stains on the ceilings or walls, sagging ceilings, water damaged flooring, and windows and doors that don’t provide a solid seal. While you can’t be 100% sure that the property is free and clear of mold, properties that pass these simple eye tests are more than likely okay, while properties that don’t make require more careful consideration.
How Can I Prevent Mold?
Taking a few small steps to prevent a mold problem can go a long way in helping both your health and wallet. Here are a few things you can do to prevent conditions conducive to mold growth.
- Turn your bathroom fan on during and after showers
- Ensure there is ample airflow within your property
- Don’t cover vents with furniture
- Avoid spilling anything on your carpets, and be sure to clean any spills immediately.
- Check for leaky faucets and pipes regularly.
- Use products such as DampRid or a dehumidifier in parts of the property that are humid.
- Check to make sure your gutters are clean.
- Make sure downspouts don’t result in water pooling against the foundation after rain
When there is a moisture issue, be sure to report the problem to your landlord immediately. Addressing the issue within an appropriate timeframe is critical to preventing a potential mold infestation. As always submit the problem in writing and keep a copy for your records.
What Does the Law Say?
Currently there are no federal laws on the books that set standards for acceptable mold exposure limits or tolerances in both commercial and residential buildings. A few states have put regulations in place to establish permissible mold levels; Texas, New Jersey, Indiana, California, and Maryland all have laws on the books with the goal of regulating indoor air quality. In 2001 California passed the California Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001, which sets permissible levels of indoor mold exposure for what populations they deem as sensitive and to set a standard for mold remediation and cleanup. Both New York City and San Francisco have enacted mold related ordinances. Landlords in New York City must follow a set of guidelines provided by the NYC Department of Health, and San Francisco considers mold to be a legal nuisance.
So while the law tends to be very vague or nonexistent in regards to mold infestation, tenants do still have rights and options. In every state except Arkansas a landlord is responsible for maintaining a fit and habitable housing environment. This means that the landlords or property managers are responsible for fixing leaking pipes, windows, roofs, etc. and if the damage results in mold growth they can likely be held accountable. Landlords however are not responsible when mold grows as a result of tenant negligence. While the landlord may very well be responsible for fixing damages and correcting an existing mold problem getting it done in a time manner is often an issue. Getting action taken can often require legal action, which can be both expensive and time consuming and time is one thing you don’t have if you’re suffering from toxic mold exposure.
What Should I Do?
If you think your property may have a mold problem the first step is to refer to your lease agreement. Lease agreements very rarely address responsibility for mold and air quality; they do address how maintenance and repairs are handled. The next step is to contact your local housing department if one exists. They will typically provide you with any city or county housing codes governing rentals and minimum maintenance requirements. In places with high a concentration of rental units there may be a local inspection program to enforce these codes. If an inspector finds any violations they can write orders for correction and the landlord will be given the appropriate time to make repairs. If a local housing department doesn’t exist, contact your local health department for information regarding local city or county health codes regarding air quality. Depending on how the previous two outlets advised you the next step would be hiring a certified mold inspector. An inspector will typically provide you with a visual inspection and take air samples to determine spore counts, and whether or not the air quality is acceptable. While you can typically get your landlord to cover the cost of the inspection, if the property owner refuses it may be beneficial to have the inspection done anyway. If the property does in fact have a severe mold problem the landlord could be responsible for making the appropriate repairs, but sometimes this can require legal action. Depending on the severity of the infestation and required repairs it may be beneficial to both parties to mutually terminate the lease. The tenant is relieved of the stress of remediation and living in an unhealthy environment and the landlord has the opportunity to remediate the problem as they deem fit. This guide is to be used as general information, always consult legal advice from your jurisdiction before making a decision.
Jeremy Shelton is a Council-certified Microbial Consultant, and performs mold testing in Atlanta, GA.