Mold and Mildew Issues in Rental Property

Mold and mildew result from moisture problems in the rental property. Landlords must take appropriate, timely action when notified by a tenant of mold problems in the rental unit or as discovered by maintenance inspections of the rental property. Moisture problems can be quite costly in terms of physical damage to the rental property, cause financial harm to rental operations, and adversely affect physical health of individuals exposed to the presence of mold.

Moisture issues are quite common in rental operations. Landlords should have rental policies and practices to identify and address mold and mildew issues. To prevent mold growth, there must be moisture control protocols in place. In as little as 48 hours in a moist environment, mold spores can grow into mold problems. With regular property inspections and requiring tenants to promptly notify the landlord of water damage/mold issues a landlord can reduce conditions favorable to mold growth and subsequent damage. However there can be other incidents of moisture damage caused by natural events such as storms and floods, as well as environmental issues such as localities with generally humid conditions that can contribute to a greater number off mold events.

Molds multiply by producing microscopic spores that travel back and forth from outdoors to indoors attaching themselves to people, pets, and possessions. The number of mold spores suspended in indoor and outdoor air fluctuates from season to season and day to day Spores are everywhere and exposure to them cannot be avoided. Everyone is exposed to molds on a daily basis and most people are unharmed by their exposure. It is not practical, probably not even possible, to eliminate all molds and mold spores indoors.

Regular Scheduled Inspections

A visual inspection of the rental property is one of the most effective ways to detect a moisture problem and the presence of mold. Regular inspections of the property’s exterior and interior spaces can help identify a mold problem or potential problems that could cause mold and mildew issues.

Scheduled property inspections should be done for vacant units as well as occupied units. If units have been vacant for some time, particularly if air conditioning units have been turned off, high heat and humidity can build up in the unit and provide a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Mold can be generally identified by fuzzy irregular shapes appearing in a wide variety of colors including black, brown, green, gray, white or yellow. Mildew is generally identified as a flat, powdery substance on the surface of objects. Mildew is lighter in color than mold, usually white, grey, or green color.

Although visual signs of mold are not always obvious, the musty smell of mold is another way to discover moisture/mold problems. Mold can grow on the hidden surfaces behind paneling and wallpaper; the top of ceiling tiles; beneath carpet and pad; or inside heating and cooling ducts. Attics, crawl spaces, and basements provide many opportunities for mold growth. Areas inside the wall around plumbing or heating/cooling ducts may have condensation that is trapped and causes water damage. Hidden mold growth should be investigated cautiously since there is the potential to release massive amounts of new mold spores into the air causing additional problems.

As the mold grows, the organic material is destroyed. Allowed to grow, mold can cause serious damage to property and furnishings. Molds can rot wood, damage drywall, and eventually cause structural damage to buildings. Mold can cause stains and other cosmetic damage to furnishings.

Controlling indoor moisture significantly limits mold growth. Mold does not need a lot of water to grow. A little condensation in a bathroom or around a windowsill can be enough to start mold growth. Common sites for indoor mold growth include bathroom tile and grout, basement walls, ceiling tiles, areas around windows, floor coverings near sinks, and leaking plumbing and plumbing fixtures. Other common sources of moisture include roof leaks, condensation due to high humidity, sprinkler systems, and flooding.

Mold and Mildew Health Concerns

Serious health problems, potentially life threating, can occur when individuals are subjected to prolonged or high-level exposure to mold. Even brief exposure to the presence of mold can cause irritation to an individual’s eyes, nose, throat, skin, and lungs.

Landlord Responsibility

As of this writing there is no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard or Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores in residential buildings. There are governing regulations that vary by state or municipality location regarding hazardous conditions which include mold.

In some states the landlord is required to disclose any hazardous conditions to potential tenants before lease signing. The majority of states hold a landlord responsible under the implied warranty of habitability to provide and maintain rental housing that is fit and habitable. Negligence by the landlord in maintaining the rental property to good condition would be a material violation of landlord responsibilities and obligations under the habitabilty warranty statutes.

Mold/Moisture Lease Addendum

A tenant bears responsibility to conduct good housekeeping practices during tenancy to maintain the rental unit to the same good condition the tenant received at move in. Many landlords utilize a mold/moisture lease addendum to emphasize the importance of preventing mold in the rental unit and to detail housekeeping practices that can prevent mold intrusion.

In addition to housekeeping requirements, the addendum requires the tenant to notify the landlord of any mold growth on surfaces inside the tenant’s dwelling unit; to notify the landlord immediately of any circumstances involving excess moisture such as water leaks or drips, sweating pipes or toilet tanks as well as any water overflows in kitchens, laundry facilities, and bathrooms, especially in circumstances where water overflow may have permeated walls, floors, carpeting or other floorcoverings or cabinets. Excess water shall be immediately removed to prevent further damage. Tenant agrees to allow landlord to enter dwelling unit to inspect and make necessary repairs for mold and moisture issues.

Mold Remediation

Some states may require the landlord to remediate the mold problem as opposed to mold removal. If remediation is required, the landlord may be held to a legal definition of the term mold remediation as “the removal, cleaning, sanitizing, demolition, or other treatment, including preventive activities, of mold or mold-contaminated matter that was not purposely grown at that location.” Some states specify a time frame for the landlord to repair the mold problem, while other states may use a “reasonable” time period. The time to repair the mold problem starts the day the tenant’s request or notice is received by the landlord. Most states require the tenant to notice the landlord in writing of the presence of mold and request a correction of the problem.

Some states address tenant remedies if the landlord fails or refuses to act in compliance with landlord obligations for mold remediation. Options are contingent upon the tenant noticing the landlord in a timely and appropriate manner and allowing specified time per statute for mold treatment repairs. Tenant remedies for landlord failure to cure a mold problem include:

  • Terminating the lease without incurring landlord penalties or loss of security deposit
  • Withholding rent
  • Paying reduced rent
  • Paying for mold remediation and deducting the cost from the rent
  • Suing the landlord for damages incurred due to landlord failure to comply with his obligations
  • Notifying appropriate regulatory agency of landlord default in maintaining habitable premises and disclosure of building code, health, safety violations

Landlord Retaliation

In most states it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant because the tenant requested repairs or remediation to mold infestation.

Landlord Liability Issues

Landlords should take proactive prevention measures and remediate problems as soon as discovered. Detailed written moisture/mold protocols help to reduce landlord liability and minimize the possibility of litigation over mold damage to property and tenant health.

Landlords may have potential and substantial legal liability to tenants for mold damages. Possible compensatory damages to the tenant include expenses for (1) medical mold diagnostic and treatment procedures, (2) loss of earnings, (3) mold damage to clothing, furniture, and other personal property, (4) rent differentials when tenants must move to a higher cost mold-safe place, (5) moving expenses, (6) various tenant expenses including mold inspection and testing, (7) remediation of the rental unit, (8) remediation and/or replacement of tenants’ damaged personal property, and (9) jury-awarded punitive damages.

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