Mold in Rentals: What You Should Know As a Tenant

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Mold in Rentals: What You Should Know As a Tenant


Where Can Mold Be Found?
Mold comes in various colors and shapes. Some of the most common types of mold are stachybotrys, penicillium, aspergilus, paecilomyces, and fusarium are black, white, green, or gray. Some are powdery, others shiny. Some molds look and smell horrible; others are barely seen -- hidden between walls, under floors and ceilings, or in less accessible spots, such as basements and attics.

Mold needs a food source, such as water-soaked materials, i.e. wall paneling, paint, fabric, ceiling tiles, newspapers, or cardboard boxes. Humidity sets up prime growing conditions for mold. Buildings in naturally humid climates of Texas, California, and areas with high water tables such as Western and Central New York have experienced more mold problems than residences in drier climates. Regardless of the climate, mold can grow as long as moisture is present and they have a food source.

Reduce Humidity
Important areas to look for mold are underneath sinks, near bathtubs or on windowsills. One of the easiest ways to prevent mold from growing in apartments is making sure that repairs are made quickly when a tenant makes a request. If a tenant reports that a water heater is leaking in their home, then an apartment manager should have the item fixed quickly to prevent moisture on surfaces. Plumbing equipment is not the only thing that can cause mold to grow in apartments. Faulty air-conditioning and heating systems can increase humidity levels in a rental unit, making a perfect environment for mold spores.

Apartment Inspections
When renting apartments to tenants, apartment managers should have a lease that states building maintenance routinely inspects each unit. By inspecting apartments every few months, it is easy to find small leaks in water pipes or around windows that feed mold spores. A regular apartment inspection by management also encourages tenants to keep their apartments free of clutter that collects mold spores. When tenants leave items such as damp towels and clothing lying in piles on the floors and against walls, mold begins to grow in hidden areas. Signs of mold in apartments might include a musty odor caused by mildew in unventilated areas.

Mold and Your Health
Mold spores can spread to every corner of your house because of cross-contamination. Healthy people can experience many annoying or even dangerous symptoms due to the presence of mold. People with allergy/breathing issues, compromised immune systems, children and the elderly are especially impacted. Some of the more common health conditions mold causes are:

  • skin rashes
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • unexplained irritability
  • flu-like symptoms
  • trouble breathing
  • coughing
  • sinus congestion
  • nausea
  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • loss of memory
  • loss of hearing
  • loss of eyesight
  • bloody noses
  • arthritic-like aches
  • chronic headaches
  • "crawly" feeling skin
  • epileptic-like seizures
  • upper respiratory distress
  • irritation of the eyes, nose or throat
  • restlessness
  • equilibrium or balance loss
  • dizziness or stuffiness


Mold and the Landlord’s Responsibility

Mold Caused by a Landlord's Failure to Fix Leaks

Landlords in all states but Arkansas are responsible for maintaining fit and habitable housing and
repairing rental property. This extends to fixing leaking pipes, windows, and roofs - the causes of most molds. If the landlord doesn't take care of leaks and mold grows as a result, you may be able to hold the landlord responsible if you can convince a judge or jury that the mold has caused a health problem.

Mold Caused by Tenant Behavior

The liability picture changes when mold grows as the result of the tenant’s behavior, such as keeping the apartment tightly shut, creating high humidity, or failing to maintain necessary cleanliness. When a tenant's own negligence is the sole cause of injury, the landlord is not liable.

Mold Clauses in Leases

Some landlords include clauses in the lease that purport to relieve them from any liability resulting from mold growth. At least one court (in Tennessee) has refused to enforce such a clause, ruling that to do so would be against public policy. More cases from other parts of the country are sure to arise as mold litigation makes its way through the courts.

Mold Analysis
The prevention of mold is definitely the responsibility of the building owner, and in turn that of the people doing maintenance. There are species of mold that are extremely dangerous, leading to needing a professional analysis before performing a cleanup in an apartment. If mold growth is severe, tenants may need to leave the unit until it is returned to a livable condition.

If you think that you may have a mold problem in your rental unit, contact your local Public Health Department. Another option if you are willing to pay, is to hire an independent party to test for mold if you are unable to get your landlord to do their due diligence. 

Visit Comprehensive Mold Management's website for more information at www.compmold.com