How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix a Mold Problem
Mold is one of the most unpleasant problems in a house. It can have a significant impact on people's health. When mold appears in a rental property, a landlord should take immediate action. The truth is that the time of action for such a problem is perplexing for many rental owners. This leads to the next question - How long does a landlord have to fix a mold problem?
Mold in Rentals - Is it Dangerous?
Mold is a microscopic fungus that grows in filaments and reproduces by spores. They can cause serious health risks for occupants of homes and other buildings. Exposure to molds can produce symptoms such as:
- Burning irritation of the eyes and nose
- Difficulty breathing.
In some individuals, even a single exposure to mold has been known to cause asthma attacks. People with weakened immune systems or respiratory problems are particularly susceptible to the effects of mold exposure. Mold is often found in homes that have suffered water damage, like flooding. The interior wall cavity insulation can become saturated with moisture and provide an ideal environment for indoor molds (fungi) development. Mold issues are more common in buildings built in humid climates such as:
- The Southern United States.
Why Does Mold Appear?
As in any usual household, mold can appear in rental properties for several reasons. Here are the most common:
Excessive humidity occurs when there is excess moisture in the air compared with how much moisture can be absorbed by objects or materials in a room. High moisture levels often come about when plumbing leaks go undiscovered for an extended period since leaking faucets or a broken pipe release water into the surrounding environment.
Poor ventilation - Ventilation with outdoor air exchange can significantly decrease indoor concentrations of mold spores. It is important to have fresh and clean air with adequate circulation capacity in each room of your home.Relative humidity levels that remain at or above 50% for extended periods will also contribute to increased levels of moisture in the indoor environment, which may lead to an increased presence of mold spores and other biological contaminants such as bacteria and viruses.
Excessive debris/clutter - This includes things like dirt, dust, food scraps, etc., if they are not regularly cleaned up from areas susceptible to their accumulation, such as the basement. Clutter also includes excessive indoor plants.
Poor housekeeping can allow excess amounts of dust to accumulate over time, attracting other biological contaminants to grow, including bacteria and mold spores.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Mold Disclosure
Although federal law does not require you to disclose a mold infestation in the property to potential renters, some states do, including California and New York. You should check your state's legislation to see whether you are required to disclose an issue with mold.
Keep in mind: Even if your state does not demand landlords disclose mold issues, one may be responsible for not disclosing it. A court might see foreknowledge of a potentially hazardous condition caused by mold and the failure to remedy it as a breach of the habitability warranty.
If mold is present in a rental unit, landlords are generally required to disclose its presence with a written notice. The written disclosure must give the tenant enough information to decide whether they want to enter into the lease or stay in the apartment.This may include giving tenants access to inspect the mold-affected area to make their determination as to its severity and whether it poses a health risk.Accordingly, landlords should not wait until after a lease has been signed before inspecting for mold conditions. If major structural repairs are needed after signing the lease, landlords must attempt to fix the problems in compliance with state warranty of habitability laws.
Legal disputes regarding mold-related damage may involve questions about whether sufficient moisture was present to cause mold growth and whether the landlord (or tenant) caused or contributed to its presence. Even if visible mold has developed, there may still be no legal duty for the landlord to clean it up if the same contamination level is found behind walls or in ventilation systems. Suppose there is any question as to whether a landlord is legally obligated (or simply expected) to remediate existing or "historic" mold conditions. In that case, they should consult local expert witnesses who can examine the site and provide reliable testimony about their observations.
What Does the Law Say?
With a few exceptions, landlord responsibilities regarding mold have not been spelled out in building codes, ordinances, statutes, or regulations. But, as explained below, landlords can be held responsible for mold problems even absent specific laws governing mold. Only a few states (including California, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas) and a few cities (including New York and San Francisco) have attempted to set mold standards and rules for mold in indoor air. More than that, there are only a few states with mold testing and cleanup requirements.
Mold is not covered by any laws, allowing many landlords to "maple" the issue by just painting over it rather than removing the mold. You may check the National Conference of State Legislatures' Environmental Health State Bill Tracking Database to determine whether your state considers mold-related legislation that may affect residential rentals. Even if your state or city doesn't have laws to deal with mold, a landlord might be held responsible for a mold problem in a rental due to the landlords' duty to provide safe and pleasant housing. Depending on the circumstances, state law may allow tenants to seek remedies such as rent withholding if their landlord fails to address a serious mold problem, or they might be able to bring a lawsuit for mold-related health problems.
Under California law and many other states, landlords must act promptly when it comes to mold problems. This implies that the landlord must remove the mold from the property as quickly as feasible.The length of time required to solve a mold problem may differ from one case to the next, and this is largely due to the variety of circumstances. Landlords, on the other hand, are unable to delay the procedure of getting rid of mold. The time frame is typically a few days but can differ by state and local legislation. Despite what the law says, as a landlord you should handle any mold problem, that is what successful and good landlords do. Think long term!
Can the Tenant be Held Liable for Mold?
After signing a lease with the landlord, it's frequently believed that the tenant becomes responsible for dealing with any mold issues. Although the tenants are usually responsible for mold removal if it occurs due to their carelessness, the landlord generally remains under a legal duty to eliminate it. In all 50 states, the legislation specifies the rights and duties of both landlords and tenants and, while they differ somewhat from state to state, in most locations, the following items are covered:
- Before a lease is signed, landlords must disclose the presence of mold to tenants.
- A landlord is responsible for the cost of mold removal if the mold grows as a result of something the landlord is responsible for (for example, if a leaking roof or a broken water pipe causes a mold problem, the landlord is generally responsible for repairing the roof or water pipe and would have to cover any mold that resulted).
- Even if the mold is caused by something the tenant did (for example, if the tenant left windows open when it was raining, allowing the carpet to get wet and subsequently moldy), landlords are required to remove mold from a rental property if it poses a health hazard or makes the home uninhabitable. However, if the tenant caused the mold problem, the landlord could charge them for the cost of mold removal using their security deposit.
Failure to Fix Mold Issues in a Rental Unit
Even if the tenant doesn't suffer any injuries, a landlord's failure to maintain a mold-free environment violates the implied warranty of habitability.In brief, the warranty of habitability requires landlords to maintain their rental properties in livable conditions. This law also involves protection from the health risks posed by exposed mold, which can result in unpleasant reactions and sometimes fatal consequences.
Most state's case law holds that exposed mold is an actionable failure to meet the requirements of maintaining habitable living spaces. This means that if a renter shows evidence of mold growth after repeated requests for landlord extermination, then the landlord has breached their duty under state law to protect tenants against dangerous living conditions that may expose them to harmful substances.In some states, if a landlord fails to fix exposure issues, the tenant has every right to withhold rent until these issues are resolved. However, renters need to note that they should not stop paying rent unless they have first provided the landlord with a written notice about their concerns and have given them at least seven days to respond. If the condition has not been fixed after seven days to take care of the issue, the renter may choose whether or not to stop paying rent so long as they provide one month's notice before stopping payment.Further compensation for mold exposure can be recovered by way of a personal injury claim. If successful, the renter may be entitled to damages including:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering associated with their reaction to mold exposure.
The best policy for preventing this scenario is to stay proactive about tenant complaints. For example, if a renter reports an issue immediately after it has occurred, then the landlord will have less of an excuse about fixing it in due time. This way, landlords can avoid issues before they become intractable problems that could be avoided altogether.
What can a tenant do if the landlord refuses to fix a mold problem?
Mold-related legislation is not currently required in every state. Despite this, premises liability and personal injury law still adhere to the principles established by the statutes that govern these matters. That implies negligence is a factor in determining responsibility.To be found liable for negligence in a premises liability claim, someone must have been aware that the issue existed or should have been aware that the problem existed. In some circumstances, negligence can be established circumstantially. It's not uncommon for landlords to be held responsible for creating a toxic environment if the problem is mold exposure. A mold infestation, on the other hand, will need to be demonstrated. This can be done in the following ways:
- The tenant should provide evidence of conversations with the landlord regarding any leaks or water intrusions and visible mold development or any other proof that the request of fixing a mold issue has been made.
- An independent qualified professional should conduct a mold inspection to establish proof of mold in the rental.
- The tenant should prove that their health has deteriorated due to the mold problem in their home through medical evidence.
Tips For Landlords Regarding Mold Issues
When there are no clear standards to follow, dealing with mold might appear tough. Despite the uncertainty, a landlord may reduce the chances of being held accountable for the mold by following these tips:
✓ Check if your insurance policy covers mold damage.
✓ Require a mold inspection in the lease. If you are unsure whether or not mold is present in your home or if it has been adequately assessed and cleaned, we recommend that you have a professional mold inspection by a certified industrial hygienist.
✓ Require tenants to immediately notify you about mold presence. If they failed to inform you about a leak or other water problem they were aware of, and you can prove it, you would have a defense if they attempt to blame the incident on you.
✓ Ask your tenants to carry renters insurance. They should submit a claim with their insurance companies if their property is infested by mold.
✓ Be proactive in maintaining your property. You should practice preventative maintenance that includes looking for leaks, water staining, and dampness/condensation (including in the HVAC system).
✓ Resolve any of your tenant’s concerns as soon as possible. Find and fix the sources of water problems.
✓ Consider purchasing an air conditioner, dehumidifier, or exhaust fan.If there are already signs of mold in the property, you should try using chlorine bleach or another iodine-based cleaner to wipe down all surfaces that could contain moisture. This would include walls and ceilings and windowsills that may have been exposed to rain or snow due to open windows during winter months.
In addition, don't forget to clean the floor thoroughly and its baseboards and door frames since these areas can also quickly become harborage for mold spores.If the problem persists, you may need a professional cleaning crew with experience in removing mold from surfaces through specialized methods.
Get Landlord Insurance
Renter’s insurance will most likely not cover the cost of mold removal (in most cases). This is because renter’s insurance doesn’t cover things like structural damage to the home (landlord’s insurance would cover that instead), so it usually won’t cover mold removal.Landlords are generally held liable for mold removal. In this case, it is wise for them to be covered with landlord insurance to mitigate their risks. Each landlord insurance companies have different coverages and policies. However, make sure you check to see what is covered.
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Mold may be a major headache for both tenants and landlords. Even if there is no law regarding mold, landlords should react swiftly if they receive a complaint about mold from their tenants. If the infestation is minor, just cleaning the area and potentially improving the ventilation should do the trick. However, if you're dealing with a significant infestation of black mold, it's time to get help from some professionals.If mold is a persistent problem in your rental, it's preferable to disclose it to tenants before they move in.
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