Toxic Mold and Landlords

by Kimberley Jace on July 21, 2008

You spend eight hours a day sleeping in your home or apartment, and additional hours relaxing and having meals. Toxic mold in the place you live can be making you sick. Mold exposure at home is apt to be the greatest, because you spend more hours at home than in any other single location.

If you become ill because of toxic mold in your rental unit, you might have to convince your landlord that mold cleanup is his/her responsibility.

A Sick Building: Symptoms of Mold at Home

The symptoms of a sick building — a house or apartment where the indoor air quality is poor because of contamination by toxic mold — are often apparent. Visible black mold growing on ceilings, walls, or floors is a sign that the place where you live might be sick.

Do a thorough mold inspection of your apartment, ideally BEFORE you sign a lease agreement:

  • Check for black staining on walls and ceilings, or small areas that have been painted over.
  • Inspect all areas near water sources, including kitchen and bathroom sinks, toilets, water heaters, washing machines, and air conditioning units.
  • Check porches, basements, and storage areas where debris might be holding mold.
  • Be aware of any odor of mildew or mustiness that often accompanies carpet mold.

Perform your inspections with your landlord or rental agent by your side; make notes of any evidence of mold you find. Videotape your inspection, if possible. If you have concerns about mold in a place you’re considering renting, ask the property owner to include a guarantee of mold remediation with your lease agreement.

Sadly, the first symptoms of a sick building are often medical symptoms that show up in the people who live there. You might have no idea that a property is contaminated with toxic mold until you have lived there for weeks or months. Be alert to medical symptoms that began or changed when you moved into your home. Chronic sinusitis, repeated sneezing, skin rashes, and headaches can be signs that you are being exposed to toxic black mold where you live.

Mold Inspection and Remediation

The first step to resolving a mold problem is to notify your landlord, in writing, by certified mail, of your concern. Keep documentation of every conversation you have with the landlord about your mold concerns. These documents will become important if you end up in court to resolve the issue.

Ask your landlord for a professional mold inspection; if mold is found, insist on professional mold remediation. Some landlords will try to resolve a mold problem themselves, unaware that the process of cleaning and removing mold often releases more mold spores into the air, where they will affect both the cleaner and the residents who have to live there.

If your landlord is unwilling to resolve the toxic mold problem in your house or apartment, be prepared to move to a safer living space. If moving means breaking your lease or rental agreement, you might need the help of an attorney to keep from being penalized.

If you own a condominium or townhouse, your Homeowners Association might be willing to intervene on your behalf with the property owner. The Homeowners Association bylaws might specify who is responsible for mold remediation.

Landlords and Mold Laws

In many states, landlords are required by law to disclose to prospective tenants if they know a property has a mold problem. In some states, they must also disclose if a property has had a mold problem that has been cleaned up and resolved. Your local health department will have information about what local and state laws apply to landlords and mold.

Most states require property owners who rent out living spaces to maintain those living spaces in safe condition, but the laws vary greatly on whether mold must be considered a health hazard. Again, the local health department will be able to tell you where your state and local governments stand on assessing mold health risk.

If you caused damage to your rented unit that resulted in mold — for example, if you let water overflow the bathtub or left windows open during a rainstorm, which caused mold infestation — your landlord probably cannot be held responsible for mold remediation in those areas.

If you have suffered monetary losses from mold in your living space, because of medical bills or lost wages, you might be able to hold your landlord fiscally responsible. A landlord-tenant lawyer might be able to resolve a disagreement between you and your landlord about who should pay for mold-related repairs and medical bills. If your landlord doesn’t comply, consult a mold lawyer or an attorney who specializes in mold personal injury claims for information.

If you would like to be referred to an attorney with experience in handling mold legal issues such as these, please fill out the form on this page.

Tips for Landlords

  • Know your legal responsibilities concerning mold in your rental units.
  • Inspect your property regularly for mold.
  • If you discover mold, act on it immediately; advise your tenants of the problem and what you are doing to resolve it.
  • Do not try to cover mold with paint, flooring, or wallpaper.
  • Stipulate in any lease that the tenant must tell you immediately if any water damage occurs.
  • Never knowingly rent mold-infested property to tenants; consider your future liability.

Tips for Tenants

  • Inspect the rental unit before you sign anything.
  • If you find mold, insist on professional mold inspection and remediation before you move in.
  • If you suspect you are already living in a mold-infested property, contact the landlord and insist on professional mold inspection and remediation. Document your contacts with the landlord about this issue.
  • Be prepared to move. Do not live in mold-infested property. Contact a landlord-tenant attorney or a personal injury attorney specializing in mold lawsuits if your landlord won’t let you break your lease.

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