Mold exposure in rentals is a joint issue of tenant-landlord liability, responsibility, and prevention.
Landlords and tenants who find evidence of mold in a rental home should immediately seek a specialist who can remove mold. They should then refer to the lease agreement and work together to rectify the problem that caused the mold.
If you find mold lurking and seeping in from the corners of your walls, you live in an environmentally hazardous situation.
Renters have heard about the dangers of mold in apartments and homes. In all but the driest climates, a little mold is inevitable, but when you fail to remove toxic mold immediately, it can become a health hazard.
Renters have legal rights when finding mold in their apartments, and landlords and property owners can be held liable for any harm.
Mold 101: Basic Facts and Health Issues
Mold is a fungus that grows wherever there is moisture and nutrients, such as dust, animal feces, or cellulose.
It spreads by releasing spores into the air, and it is these spores that cause the reactions people have to mold.
Here are some essential facts to know about mold:
- Mold sensitivity can range from mild allergic reactions like stuffy noses, wheezing, and itchy eyes to asthma, upper respiratory tract infections.
- It may also lead to life-threatening hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which affects those with compromised immune systems.
- Several toxic mold strains are known to cause health issues. The most famous is Stachybotrys or black mold.
- Toxic black mold is tentatively linked to various health issues, including respiratory damage, organ failure, and neurological damage.
- Other common toxic molds include Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Fusarium. Most molds occur in combination since the conditions that favor one mold encourage all of them.
- Infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are at the most significant risk from toxic mold, but prolonged exposure increases the risk for everyone.
Keep in mind that confined spaces, such as basements and crawl spaces, will have a very high concentration of spores and should be entered cautiously.
Signs You Have a Mold Problem in Your Apartment
It can be challenging to tell if you have a mold problem. Mold symptoms mimic other ailments like pollen allergies or flu.
Mold grows in dark, out-of-the-way places in the home, so it may take work to spot.
These tips should be taken as guidelines, not as guarantees.
- Smell or odor in the carpet or walls. A musty scent that defies cleaning may indicate mold in the wallboard or padding.
- History of flooding or water intrusion. The landlord should inspect for mold if there were a previous flood or water damage in the apartment. The secretive nature of fungus means that mold can develop long repairing the damage.
- Damp spots under sinks or in bathrooms. Places where water tends to accumulate should be kept dry and inspected regularly.
- Unusual health symptoms. Headaches, nosebleeds, chronic coughs, and sneezing may all be due to mold, especially if the symptoms improve when you are out of the house.
- Visible spots. By the time the infestation has reached this stage, the mold is at a dangerous level. Remediation is essential.
The CDC recommends consulting professional remediators if you have concerns about mold levels in your home.
They will perform an air quality test to determine the level of mold spores in your home and advise you of the nature of the infestation.
Toxic Mold You Should Run Away From
There are a variety of mold strains that can cause any number of health problems.
Aggravates asthma, cystic fibrosis, and immune-deficiency diseases.
Can cause infections of the eyes, nails, or skin and systemic conditions of weak immune systems.
Can cause hypersensitivity of the skin and respiratory system.
Can cause permanent neurological and psychological damage as well as permanently damage immune systems, causing bone and internal organ infections, skin lesions, and respiratory disorders.
Stachybotrys (commonly called “black mold”)
Stachybotrys mold spores (black mold) can cause respiratory complications and aggravate respiratory diseases such as asthma. Black mold can also cause nose bleeds and memory loss.
What to Do if You Find Mold in Your Apartment?
Tenant Liability and Responsibility
A tenant’s failure to notify a landlord of mold in the rental property could result in the landlord holding the tenant legally responsible. The more serious the mold infestation is, the more costly the clean-up.
If tenants ignore the problem, they could get stuck with the bill. If you detect the growing presence of mold, it is essential to act quickly.
Mold removal is health, habitability, and legal issue, so tenants have legal rights and landlords have legal obligations.
If a landlord relocates a tenant to a hotel during this time, the tenant is still obligated to continue paying their rent, but the landlord picks up the tab for the hotel.
A tenant is responsible for reasonable preventative measures while living in the residence.
Follow these tips for preventing mold and associated health problems:
- Properly vent clothes dryers to outside the rental property
- Request regular cleaning of air conditioning and clothes dryer ducts
- Use exhaust fans during showers, running dishwashers, and while cooking
- Clean up water spills immediately
- Report water leaks to the landlord/management immediately, such as a leaky roof or leaky pipe
If you live in an area of high humidity and frequent rain, or have had any plumbing leaks, you should perform routine mold inspections.
Even if these conditions above do not apply to your living situation, you should periodically inspect your apartment for mold and seek mold remediation if you find any evidence of mold.
Here are some suggested areas to examine where the danger of black mold or other mold spores may be lurking:
- Wall paneling
- Ceiling tiles
- Cardboard boxes
If your landlord requires you to carry renters’ insurance, tell your insurance agent about any mold problem as soon as possible and let your landlord know you’ve done so.
Renters’ insurance sometimes covers consultation with a mold specialist and mold removal, so there’s a chance your insurer will help pay for the mold removal.
Landlord Responsibility and Liability
Before leasing to the tenant, the landlord should have conducted appropriate inspections and cleaning of the rental property, including a mold inspection. If a tenant reports mold to a landlord, the landlord must eradicate the problem.
However, prevention is better than costly mold clean-up. Landlords must promptly respond to maintenance and repair requests made by tenants. Such requests also include cleaning air conditioning and clothes dryer ducts.
Take note of these important facts for landlords to know about mold and rentals:
- If a landlord grossly delays or ignores such requests, liability for resulting mold growth falls on the landlord and a legal issue may arise between landlord and tenant.
- With a few exceptions, landlord responsibility regarding mold and mold cleanup is not usually clearly spelled out in building codes, regulations, statutes, or ordinances.
- It is in a landlord’s best interest to check for mold before each new tenant moves in and to periodically check during a tenancy.
State and/or local law sometimes dictates mold cleanup and remediation.
It is always best to check with your state and/or local laws to see what the law says about who is responsible for mold and what landlord and tenant rights are.
Be aware, however, that if mold clauses in your lease agreement are contrary to your state’s laws, a court may find your contract in violation and, therefore, not enforceable.
If the source of the mold is found to be a landlord’s responsibility, contact your insurance agent to inquire about your policy and any coverage for mold remediation.
Tenants and landlords share joint responsibility in preventing mold from growing and creating conditions that lessen the likelihood of mold.
An equal share of responsibility means sharing equally in liability.
Tenants and landlords should carefully document events once they suspect mold within a rental unit.
- A thoroughly recorded timeline
- Copies of maintenance requests
- Completed work orders
- Correspondence including emails and phone calls
These are necessary should it come down to disputing a case in court. However, the best solution for both the tenant and landlord is to prevent mold from occurring in the first place.
It’s important to realize that tenants and landlords are equally responsible for maintaining the rental property.
It’s not about who is to blame for the mold but how to take action to have a healthy tenant-landlord relationship and healthy living environment.
How Long Does a Landlord Have To Fix Mold?
There are no federal laws regarding mold disclosure. Most states have mold disclosure laws, so renters should check their landlord/tenant laws to see their state and city rules.
For instance, California requires landlords to disclose if they “know or have reasonable cause to believe” there may be mold in an apartment and to disclose if mold levels pose a known health risk. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 26147 (2022))
Remember that landlords need to stay current on mold rules and regulations, including the following:
- No states require landlords to remediate mold or set exposure limits on mold levels in residential buildings.
- Only a few states have begun requirements for disclosing the presence of mold in a home (including California, Indiana, Maryland, Texas, and New Jersey). Some cities (San Francisco and New York) have different regulations.
- Landlords must repair and maintain the premises, which extends to improving and maintaining plumbing and fixing leaks.
- Leaking pipes and water intrusion are primary sources of mold infestation, so notifying landlords of plumbing issues is the best way to avoid mold in the first place.
Tenants must know the following about mold:
- Tenants should notify landlords in writing as soon as they notice a water leak or intrusion, and request repair of the damage.
- In nearly all states, a landlord has 30 days from the date of written notice to cure the damage before tenants may repair the damage themselves and deduct the cost from their rent.
If you have concerns over legal issues in mold cases, contact an attorney.
The rights of tenants in mold remediation cases are uncertain, and you should consult legal professionals before proceeding.