Mold is a potential environmental hazard that tenants should be concerned about. Tenants across the country have won multimillion-dollar lawsuits against landlords for significant health problems - such as rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, cognitive losses, hemorrhaging, and asthma - that were allegedly caused by exposure to toxic molds in their buildings.
When you suspect mold in your rental unit, learn to look for it and when you might be liable. Even better, take measures to prevent mold from forming before it becomes a problem - or eliminate mold without causing it to grow.
Mold comes in a variety of colors and shapes. There are black, white, green, or gray villains with names like Stachybotrys, Penicillium, aspergillus, paecilomyces, and fusarium. Some are powdery, others are shiny. Molds may look and smell disgusting but are more often hidden between walls, under floors, or in less accessible places, such as basements and attics.
Mold often grows on materials soaked in water, such as wall paneling, paint, fabric, ceiling tiles, newspapers, or cardboard boxes. Humidity is ideal for mold growth. There have been more mold problems in naturally humid climates such as Texas, California, and the Southern United States than in drier climates. However, mold can grow in any environment if it is moist enough.
Mold and Your Health
Mold is also one of the most controversial environmental hazards. Within the scientific and medical communities, there is considerable debate regarding which molds, and what circumstances, pose serious health risks to people in their homes. There is no argument, however, among tenants who have been exposed to (and inhaled) mold spores.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that most mold is not harmful to your health, for example, the mold that grows on shower tiles is not dangerous. To determine whether a mold is harmful or merely irritating, an expert is needed. Moreover, it's very difficult to determine whether a person has inhaled or ingested mold after being exposed to it. The only way to definitively determine if a mold is in the body is to test for its DNA in a blood sample.
Landlord Legal Responsibilities for Tenant Exposure to Mold
Mold responsibilities have not been clearly outlined in building codes, ordinances, statutes, or regulations, with a few exceptions. (But, as explained below, landlords can be held responsible for mold problems even absent specific laws governing mold.)
Under Federal Law
As of 2013, there are no federal laws regarding what amounts of mold are considered safe. Landlord/tenant law is not typically covered by federal law, either, but by state laws, which vary from state to state.
Under State Laws
As of 2013, only a few states have laws regarding what amounts of mold are considered safe. In most states, that’s not dictated by law.
State laws do outline the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants in all 50 states. While the laws vary slightly from state to state, in most states the following things are part of state law:
Landlords must notify tenants about the presence of mold in a rental property before the lease is signed. Not knowing about the mold is not an excuse if a “reasonable person” would have known.
Landlords must remove mold from a rental property and are responsible for the cost of mold removal if the mold occurs as a result of something the landlord is responsible for (for instance, if a leaky roof or a broken water pipe leads to a mold problem, the landlord is usually responsible for fixing the roof or the water pipe, and would also have to pay for removing any mold that resulted).
Landlords must remove mold from a rental property if it presents a health hazard or makes the home unlivable, even if the mold occurred as a result of something the tenant did (for instance, if the tenant left windows open when it was raining, so that the carpet got wet, and then became moldy); however, the landlord can charge the tenant for the cost of mold removal if the mold problem was the tenant’s fault.
Under Local Laws
A few cities also have laws regarding how much mold is considered safe and landlord responsibility for mold.
Mold and the Landlord's Duty to Maintain Habitable Premises
Even if your state or city does not have mold laws, your landlord could still be liable for a mold problem in your rental due to the landlord's responsibility to provide safe and livable housing. If your landlord fails to fix a serious mold problem, state law may give you options such as withholding rent or filing a lawsuit for mold-related health problems.
Mold Caused by a Landlord's Failure to Fix Leaks
Every state except Arkansas requires landlords to maintain habitable housing and repair rental properties, which includes fixing leaky pipes, windows, and roofs-the causes of most mold. As long as you can convince a judge or jury that the mold has caused a health problem as a result of the landlord not taking care of leaks, you might be able to hold the landlord responsible.
Mold Caused by Tenant Behavior
The liability picture changes when mold grows as the result of your own behavior, such as keeping the apartment tightly shut, creating high humidity, or failing to maintain necessary cleanliness. Tenants have some duties to maintain their rental unit, so when a tenant's own negligence is the sole cause of injury, the landlord is not liable. To avoid causing any mold problems, practice good housekeeping, such as ventilating your apartment.
Mold Clauses in Leases
Occasionally, landlords include clauses in their lease that purport to release them of any liability resulting from mold growth. A court in Tennessee has refused to enforce such a clause, ruling it would be against public policy. As mold litigation makes its way through the courts, more cases are sure to arise from other parts of the country. In some states, landlords are required to disclose mold information to tenants.
Tenants should be the landlord's partners in preventing the conditions that lead to mold growth. The landlord is responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of the property (the roof, the plumbing, and the windows). Preventing mold problems in your home in the first place and reporting issues to your landlord promptly can help.
For more information on mold, including what it looks like, how to test for mold, the health effects of mold exposure, and how to clean up mold, check out www.aquaproperty.net. We have 2 major subdivisions that can help you in times like this. Visit our website at www.discountdryout.com and www.apdroofing.com. Contact us at 833.766.3932 to Learn More.
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