Mold is among the most controversial of environmental hazards. There is considerable debate within the scientific and medical communities about which molds, and what situations pose serious health risks to people. There is no debate, however, among tenants who have suffered the problems of living with and breathing mold and its toxins.
Confusion over Landlord Responsibilities
With a few exceptions, landlord responsibilities regarding mold have not been clearly spelled out in building codes, ordinances, statutes, or regulations. However, landlords can be held responsible for mold problems even absent specific laws governing mold.
- No federal law sets permissible exposure limits or building tolerance standards for mold in residential buildings. (Thankfully, 41 states have now passed legislation concerning the landlord-tenant relationship and mold-related issues). A few cities – New York and San Francisco, have taken steps toward establishing permissible mold standards or guidelines and regulations for mold in indoor air.
- For information on mold rules and regulations in your state, check with your State Department of Environmental Protection (find yours at the federal EPA website).
- For local mold-related rules, contact your city manager or mayor’s office or local health department. Check out State and Local Government on the Net for finding local governments online.
Even if your state or city doesn’t have specific mold laws, your landlord may still be liable for a mold problem in your rental, as a result of their responsibility to provide safe and livable housing. Depending on the situation, your state law may give you options such as rent withholding if your landlord fails to fix a serious mold problem, or you may be able to file a lawsuit for mold-related health problems.
Landlord’s Failure to Fix Leaks
Landlords in all states but Arkansas are responsible for maintaining fit and habitable housing and repairing rental property, and this extends to fixing leaking pipes, windows, and roofs — the causes of most mold. 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
Things are different 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. When the mold problem is caused by your own negligence, the landlord is not liable. To avoid causing any mold problems, practice good housekeeping, such as ventilating your apartment.
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.
A smart landlord will try to prevent the conditions that lead to the growth of mold — and tenants should be the landlord’s partner in this effort. This approach requires maintaining the structural integrity of the property (the roof, plumbing, and windows), which is the landlord’s job. You can help by preventing mold problems in your home in the first place and promptly reporting problems that need the landlord’s attention.
It can be tricky to find out whether a person who has been exposed to mold has actually inhaled or ingested it. New tests that measure the presence of a particular mold’s DNA in a blood sample are the only way to know for sure whether the mold is present in the body. If you suspect there is mold in your rental unit, learn what to look for and when your landlord might be liable. Even better, take steps to prevent mold before it becomes a problem—or clean mold up before it does become a problem. For more mold resources, visit https://www.epa.gov/mold
Resource – https://www.nolo.com