Having a mold problem in your home can be so frustrating. But having mold in a rental can be an absolute nightmare.
If those are both bad, try having mold in a rental when a landlord won’t fix the mold problem.
If you are dealing with mold in a rental, then this article is for you. While tenant right’s laws and mold laws vary from state to state, the bulk of the information in this article applies to anyone in any state.
This article isn’t just for tenants! If you are a landlord, there is information that you simply must know not only to protect your investment but the health of other people living in your home.
The information that is about to be laid out for you is by no means considered legal advice. A lawyer should be consulted if you plan on pursuing any legal action.
What You Need To Know About Mold In A Rental As A Tenant
All tenants should educate themselves about the basics of mold. You can check out my Mold Facts page to learn more but let’s cover a couple of basics here.
A mold problem generally occurs because of one of two reasons (sometimes both at the same time):
- A leak or other water intrusion
- High indoor humidity
Without either of these your chances of having a mold in a rental are reduced.
Black Toxic Mold
It seems like mold in rental homes and apartments is always referred to as black toxic mold. The thing is, this isn’t the only mold out there. While you don’t want any type of mold present in large amounts, you don’t want any toxic mold present in your home at all.
The black toxic mold you hear about is most often Stachybotrys which is one of the few types of mold that produce mycotoxins which can really cause negative health effects. This is why it is very important not to move into a moldy rental to begin it.
An Overview Of Mold Laws
On a federal level, there are no threshold limits to what determines what an “acceptable” amount of mold present in a home is. Only a few states (including California, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas), and a few cities (including New York and San Francisco), have taken steps toward establishing permissible mold standards or guidelines and regulations for mold in indoor air. This makes for a grey area when determining whether or not a home has a mold problem.
To make matters worse, there are only a handful of states that have mold testing and remediation standards in place. This often times allows a landlord to get away with “hiding” mold in a rental by just painting over the problem and not actually removing the mold.
Tenant Laws and Mold In A Rental
Tenant laws enter into new territory from mold laws.
All states will allow a tenant to take legal action if a habitable environment is not provided by the landlord. Landlords in all states but Arkansas are responsible for maintaining fit and habitable housing and repairing rental property, and this extends to fixing leaking pipes, windows, and roofs.
If the landlord doesn’t take care of leaks and mold grows as a result, you might be able to hold the landlord responsible if you can convince a judge or jury that the mold has caused a health problem. There’s a but…
While this is on a case by cases bases, most of the time the mold growth has to occur while you are living in the rental. If the landlord failed to fix a previous leak in a timely manner or because proper remediation was not completed you may not have a claim. You may have mold growing behind your walls and not know. Your health might be impacted. But you probably can’t do anything about it legally. Unless….
Visible mold begins to grow OR you take matters into your own hands as a tenant and hire a professional mold inspector to assess the mold in a rental. More on that in a minute.
Can You Sue Your Landlord For Mold?
Yes. However, a tenant will have to prove there is a mold problem. When it comes to mold in a rental the tenant typically needs to prove 4 things:
- The mold growth is related to landlord negligence. This means showing documentation of your correspondence with the landlord about any leaks / water intrusions or visible mold growth.
- Proof of either visible or hidden mold in a rental. Proof of a mold problem should be provided in the form of a mold inspection by an independent licensed professional. The landlord should pay for the inspection to be done but they could refuse.
3. Proof that your health has changed for the worse because of the mold problem in the rental.
4. Verification that you are are under the care of a licensed medical practitioner who specializes in detoxing from mold exposure.
This is where a consultation with an attorney well versed in mold laws comes into play. You don’t want to tackle a mold lawsuit on your own.
Responsibilities As A Tenant If You Have Mold In A Rental
There are many situations where a landlord or property manager can be blamed for mold problems in a rental property.
However, there are many situations where the tenant is actually to blame for a mold problem. So let’s go ahead and look at the responsibility of a tenant as it relates to mold.
Your landlord is not a mind reader. If you do not let them know of any problems, how can it possibly be handled?
It is your responsibility to disclose any kind of leaks, small or large. You should report any water damage both verbally and in writing (preferably by email or certified mail). That way it is on the record and there can be no dispute with “he said, she said”.
Time is of an essence when it comes to water damage. That is why it is so important if a leak occurs, you do the best you can to clean up as much of the water as possible.
I am not saying if a pipe bursts that you have to clean and dry everything up by yourself. Do what you can. If you can clean up the standing water with some towels it can greatly help. If you happen to have any heavy duty fans go ahead and set those up. Be careful to ensure none of the electric sockets got wet before plugging in the fan.
You should notify your landlord or property manager right away to have a Property Damage Restoration Company come to dry out the water damaged areas. Allowing these companies access into your home is essential. A tenant is expected to comply to preserve the habitability of a home.
Air Conditioning Unit
Usually, the tenant is responsible for changing the filter but the Landlord is responsible for ensuring proper maintenance be conducted on the unit. However, there is one certain aspect of the air conditioning unit that is rarely talked about:
How to run the air conditioning system…
The air conditioning system has two main purposes:
- Cooling the air
- Removing moisture from the air
Everybody knows about the cooling part, but it’s the dehumidifying is very much underestimated.
Your home’s relative humidity should be under 60%. Get yourself a hygrometer or humidity meter which measures humidity within a home.
Many mold problems occur within a home because the HVAC is not dehumidifying but blowing cold air. Cold air blowing into a humid environment leads to condensation, condensation can lead to mold growth.
How can a tenant cause this? Usually, a tenant can cause this by leaving the HVAC unit on the “On” position. This can lead to excess cold air being sent into the living space which leads to not enough moisture being removed from the air.
Responsibilities Of A Landlord If There Is Mold In A Rental They Own
The landlord has one overall responsibility that generalizes all their responsibilities in one:
Provide a habitable environment for the tenant.
Mold prevention will always be the biggest proponent of ensuring a mold problem doesn’t occur in a rental home you own. So as a landlord, be sure you practice good home maintenance and educate your tenants on the 27 things they can do to prevent mold.
Have The Property Inspected For Any Leaks/HVAC Issues
Before the tenant occupies the property, a landlord should come up with some kind of schedule to have the home inspected to prevent mold. Once a quarter should probably be sufficient but that will be up to both the tenant and landlord to decide.
A landlord should look for any visible stains or signs of a leak. Is paint bubbling at all? Are any drywall nails popping out of the wall? These are tell-tale signs that there may be moisture intrusion into the home.
An HVAC company should be hired to perform maintenance on the unit once every 6 months or so.
If any parts of the HVAC unit, the unit itself, or any plumbing fixtures are not properly functioning, the landlord must repair or replace.
Have Leaks Corrected Right Away
The sooner water intrusion is corrected and dried out the more of a chance mold can be nipped at the butt!
If a landlord takes their good old time to dry up a water damaged area, well, you can expect a mold problem if the conditions are right.
While it is the tenant’s responsibility to notify the landlord when an Emergency Dry-out should be done in a home, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to actually call the company and arrange for them to go out to the home. For the most part, these services will be covered by homeowner’s insurance.
How Long Does A Landlord Have To Fix A Mold Problem?
Another grey area. Depending on how bad the mold problem is, mold remediation may need to be performed by a professional mold remediation company.
This can be pretty costly, but if not done properly it can not only be ever more costly monetarily to a home but costly in regards to the health of the occupants within the home. A landlord may be at the mercy of the mold remediation company’s schedule.
If a landlord or handyman tries to remove mold and proper containment is not set up, it can cause airborne mold spores to be released into the air. Mold remediation does have protocols that need to be followed to prevent cross-contamination throughout a home.
The EPA requires mold remediation to be performed for areas of mold larger than 10 square feet.
What Should A Tenant Do When The Landlord Won’t Fix The Mold Problem Or Wants To Do It Themselves?
These situations where there is a dispute over mold can always become messy. Regardless of who is right or wrong, both party’s goal should first get a proper diagnosis to determine if there is indeed a problem and then if there is a problem, how to fix it.
If the landlord tries to skirt the law, downplay the severity of the issues, or outright deny a mold problem, the tenant will need to seek legal advice.
Mold Clause In The Rental Agreement / Lease
You can save any future landlord-tenant mold drama by putting EVERYTHING into writing in the lease.
Here is an example of how you can do that:
Having that in the lease will cover just about all scenarios in writing. That way there is no disputing what the tenant’s responsibilities are.
If you are a tenant, if you treat the home as if it was your own, and if you are a landlord that treats the home as if your own family lived there, a dispute should never arise!