LANDLORD VS. TENANT – What Are The Rules Regarding Mold Responsibility In Rental Properties?

It’s one thing when mold sets in on a homeowner’s property and jeopardizes the health of its permanent occupants. When mold plagues a rental property, the fallout can fan out to affect not just the current tenants but landlords, neighbors, and future residents who may inherit the infestation after the renters now coping with it have moved on.

Given the extensive process and sometimes considerable expense of professional mold remediation, we consider it a prudent precaution for landlords and tenants alike to inform themselves thoroughly of how the law defines responsibility for dealing with an infestation. Make no mistake, landlords and tenants alike share the responsibility of maintaining a sanitary environment free from the range of unfortunate issues mold can present. Although both sides of a rental agreement have a part to play, statutes differentiate distinctly between a landlord’s negligent upkeep and tenants who abuse living spaces they don’t own.

It behooves both sides to know where that line is drawn before signing a lease together.

How Do I Know When I Have A Mold Problem?

Fortunately, even if your rental does have a mold problem, odds are against the growth posing any serious risks. Out of around 1,000 various species commonly found indoors in America, a minute handful carry dangerous mycotoxins that can set off serious, possibly life-threatening reactions if ingested or inhaled regularly. Minor symptoms illnesses such as respiratory difficulty, coughing, markers of a common cold or flu bug that only present until away from the mold invasion for a long while, headaches and fever are all fairly common. However, more grave complications and conditions such as brain damage, internal hemorrhaging and even cancer can quickly become life-threatening problems to infirm individuals such as infants, the elderly, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, those already dealing with upper respiratory infections, and others with compromised immune systems.

Though remote, the consequences of your home being occupied by one of nature’s more hardy and virulent strains of mold are imaginably dire enough to merit being especially conscious of an emerging colony’s most obvious warning signs:

SMELL – Mold generally gives off a stale mildew odor hard to mistake for anything else in the immediate area.
APPEARANCE – The various species of mold can range in color from white, black or brown to green, yellow and orange with textures that often appear fluffy or slimy.
YOUR BODY – If the symptoms described above appear without warning or seemingly without cause and you haven’t seen or smelled the usual warning signs, consider scheduling a professional appointment to have your home checked for a hidden contamination.

Assuming a mold insurgence has been confirmed, your rights and degree of responsibility for remediation will vary according to your side of the rental agreement.

”I’m A Renter Whose Apartment Has Mold Issues…”

To preface, this is one of the many contingencies that makes renter’s insurance a must-have. Many policies nowadays will compensate tenants up to a reasonable cost for belongings ruined by mold. Be sure to read your insurer’s terms carefully to determine how coverage might vary according to the cause of the mold and ask your insurance agent to clarify anything that looks muddy.

That being said, as of 2016, no federal laws currently govern landlord/tenant responsibilities pertaining to dealing with mold. Instead, a number of cities such as New York City and San Francisco have municipal laws marking each side’s limits of responsibility and select states including Texas, Maryland, New Jersey, Indiana and California have overriding statutes on the books. Generally, though, a mold infestation would likely fall under the umbrella of a landlord’s responsibility to maintain habitable rental unit conditions.

This is where consulting an attorney is essential to reaching an amicable solution before things get ugly. Your landlord is legally responsible for arranging and paying for mold remediation if the problem stems from a leaky roof, outdated plumbing, or anything else the property owner would be reasonably expected to maintain. After all, a condition that may be making your apartment unsafe to occupy has resulted from the management’s negligence. Even if you are found responsible for your care of the unit giving rise to the mold infestation in the first place, most courts will hold management responsible for arranging actual remediation and expect the tenant to foot the bill.

Herein lies the importance of thoroughly documenting the apartment’s condition with photos and a written list of any existing defects or damages on the day you move in, no matter how small the imperfection. Once you meet with a lawyer specializing in litigating tenant-landlord disputes for experienced advice, you should explain the mold issue to your landlord in a descriptive, tactfully worded letter that makes a point of invoking breach of “Warranty of Habitability” (the above-stated responsibility to maintain safe living conditions) and recommends a reasonable window for having the mold removed.

Keep all communication in writing, have all paperwork and correspondence delivered by certified mail with return receipts, and maintain photocopies in the event the feud goes to court. Also, any good attorney versed in these matters will recommend having a professional environmental company conduct mold and indoor air quality testing at the property to assess evidence of a legitimate hazard to your health. Keep original and duplicate copies of the estimate and written receipts.

What If My Landlord Won’t Deal With The Mold?

If a reasonable time frame passes without any action to have the mold professionally dealt with, your further action should likely begin with a certified letter notifying your landlord that you intend to withhold rent until the mold is eliminated and you will pay a reduced rent for a period spanning from the beginning of the problem until the point when it is entirely removed.

In the meantime, hold your rent in an interest-bearing savings account in order to demonstrate to a court that you have it ready to pay as soon as the matter is resolved and that you abstained from paying out of concern for your well-being.

Let’s say your landlord then objects in court to your refusal to pay rent. That’s when having mold inspection and testing reports, laboratory feedback, photographs, witnesses and possibly medical assessments on hand will fortify your case. In the best-case scenario, a judge will rule in your favor and order the landlord to move forward with having the mold removed. As a bonus, you might even end up with significantly reduced rent or none owed whatsoever.

”I’m A Landlord And My Tenant Is Ruining My Property With Mold…”

Let’s begin by breaking down and reviewing who would hypothetically be likely held responsible for a mold problem, and why:

Ceiling mold due to leaky roof?

LANDLORD – The tenant is not responsible for repairing the roof.

Mold invading the basement through the walls?

LANDLORD – The tenant can’t be held responsible for dealing with the property’s foundation.

Water damage caused by leaking pipes?

LANDLORD – Tenants don’t maintain plumbing.

Mold found during move-in?

LANDLORD – Tenants found the apartment that way before they had unpacked their knick-knacks.

Surface mold on furniture?

TENANTS – Tenants are responsible for keeping the unit properly ventilated.

Mold growing on bathtubs and shower tiles?

TENANTS – This is preventable with minimal regular cleaning.

Mold found on window sills?

TENANTS – Again, a matter of adequate ventilation and monitoring condensation.

Mold on drywall where towels would typically be hung?

TENANTS – You didn’t soak the towels and hang them there.

As landlord is not an on-call cleaning service. For one thing, respecting tenant privacy prohibits it. More importantly, a number of the all-too-common causes of household mold stem from failing to engage in the kind of cleaning expected of a responsible adult. That isn’t to say there aren’t gray areas; yes, you keep up the plumbing, but the tenant clogged the drain with whatever went down it. You are responsible for the crawl space’s general ventilation, but if air stagnates because piled-up belongings have blocked the vents, that doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

Yes, you must maintain habitable conditions, but you and your tenants can meet one another halfway. Prior to new renters moving in, have a talk about keeping certain vulnerable areas such as bathrooms clean and ask that they alert you immediately if they notice leaks or moisture accumulating. Once you become aware of a problem, act on it immediately or face the legal ramifications if mold does develop and possibly wreak havoc on your tenant’s’ health.

Remember, you have plenty at stake. When hidden well enough to thrive undetected or simply ignored once it is found, mold can progress to staining and discoloring your unit’s walls, carpet, fabrics, and almost any other surface where it grows. Past that, it can also do extensive structural damage by rotting and disintegrate wood as it spreads while multiplying the ongoing potential bodily risks of continued exposure to potentially allergenic, pathogenic or toxic spores on a daily basis.

Some mold can be prevented easily. Unscented detergent and water will sometimes wipe out a smaller colony. Just make sure to equip yourself with protective goggles, rubber cleaning gloves and a dust mask before getting anywhere near spores. If you develop headaches or become nauseous, stop immediately and maintain ample ventilation after cleaning up to prevent the mold from returning. Of course, use some common sense, as well: if you face a massive mold outbreak, recurring infestations or an exceptionally damp apartment, call on a licensed and certified professional mold remediator versed in safely and effectively sanitizing the area.

Note: This information may not be applicable to some of you. We are not providing any legal advice whatsoever. Every situation is different as well as the laws in each state and town.