All across the country, renters are suing landlords for health problems caused by mold. These claims state that toxic mold in the building has caused health problems such as skin irritations, chronic fatigue, digestive problems, cognitive dysfunctions, and breathing problems like asthma. As a landlord, it's important you know what causes mold and how identify it as well as understand what you are responsible for when it comes to mold in a rental property.
Common Causes of Mold
Mold grows in damp areas that have been left unattended. It is often hidden in places that are not used often, like basements or attics, or in unseen areas between the walls or under the floor. Mold growth can occur after a leak or flood when water-soaked materials like wall paneling, paint, fabric, ceiling tiles, or piles of clutter are not properly cleaned, ventilated and dried. Buildings in cities with a humid climate are at more risk for mold than those in drier climates because humidity contribute to mold growth. However, no matter the climate, buildings must be properly ventilated to prevent mold.
There are several types of household mold, and they appear in different colors, shapes, and textures. Some mold is black, while others can appear white, green, or gray. Mold can look powdery, or it can have a shiny appearance. The discoloration can be found on the surfaces of walls, floors or ceilings, but not all surface discolorations are caused by mold. To tell if a discoloration is mold, apply household bleach to the surface. If it changes color or disappears completely, then it might be mold. Mold can also be identified by the smell, which is an unpleasant musty or earthy odor. Mold that is growing inside a wall or under the floor may not leave a discoloration on the surface, but it may be identifiable by the smell.
A Landlord’s Legal Responsibilities for Mold
For the most part, there are no federal laws and only very few state and local laws that dictate standards for mold in residential buildings. Some states, such as California, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas, have passed laws establishing guidelines for regulating the amount of mold in indoor air. Also, some cities, such as New York and San Francisco, have mold-related ordinances in place.
However, despite the lack of laws defining the landlord’s responsibility to remediate mold problems, a landlord does have a duty to maintain a habitable premise and this includes maintaining a mold-free environment. A landlord may be liable for a mold problem in a rental unit if sh/e did not fix the problem and the tenant can prove that it resulted in a health issue.
Failure to Fix Leaks
A landlord’s responsibility to maintain fit and habitable housing and to repair rental property includes fixing leaky pipes, windows and roofs. If left unattended, these kinds of leaks are some of the most common causes of mold. If a landlord neglects a leak and mold grows as a result, a tenant may be able to hold the landlord responsible for the tenant’s health problems if it can be proven that the mold caused the problem.
Mold Caused by a Tenant
If a tenant’s negligence caused mold growth, then the landlord is not liable. For example, if mold grows because a tenant fails to maintain necessary cleanliness or has habits that encourage mold growth, then the landlord cannot be held responsible for health problems caused by the mold.
Putting Mold Clauses in Leases
Some landlords try to protect themselves from mold-related legal problems by including a mold clause in the lease. These clauses require tenants to properly ventilate the property, to use heating and air conditioning appropriately, to uphold standards of neatness, and cleanliness, and to report any suspicion of mold growth in a timely manner.
It’s a smart idea for a landlord to do everything possible to prevent the conditions that lead to the growth of mold. It is the landlord’s responsibility to prevent mold problems by performing routine maintenance and repairs on a property, including fixing roof, window and plumbing leaks.
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