Tenant Toolkit: Mold

Mold – A Sign of Water Intrusion and Substandard Conditions.

Mold is a gross eyesore that may harm your health. Persistent mold growth is almost always a sign that your landlord failed to repair water damage from current or past water intrusion. As with all water intrusion, you should always tell your landlord about the problems in writing right away.

Mold may also evidence illegally substandard conditions, such as inadequate ventilation, lack of heating, leaky windows and roofs, or substandard plumbing. You should also tell your landlord about these problems as soon as possible… and always in writing.

The mold itself will always come back or grow worse until your landlord repairs the source of moisture as well as all water damaged materials. Ultimately, it’s your landlord’s legal duty to fix the problem and completely abate the sources and presence of all indoor contamination.

How Do I Know Mold Growth Is Actually A Problem?
Mold becomes a nuisance and a health problem where it grows out of control. Mold growth is worst where your home harbors excess moisture and lacks adequate ventilation.

The perfect storm occurs where there was a bad form of water intrusion (flood, plumbing leak, broken washing machine, etc.) and your landlord just let the water sit. Left unattended, the soaked walls, wet carpet, and waterlogged insulation materials slowly dry on their own, allowing mold and other indoor contaminants to flourish in the absence of proper repairs.

If you find mold growing all over a certain area, or all over your home, or if mold repeatedly ruins your personal belongings, two things are likely:

  1. Your landlord failed to repair an ongoing source of water intrusion, such as leaky pipes inside the walls or holes in the roof or siding.
  2. Your landlord cut corners on past water intrusion – like a broken washing machine or dishwasher – and failed to properly repair and replace all materials damaged by the past event.

Either way, your landlord failed to meet their duty under California law.

Is Bad Mold Growth A Violation Of My Rights As A Tenant?Yes. When mold ruins your property, grows on the walls, or disrupts your enjoyment of your home, it becomes what lawyers call a “nuisance.” Nuisances are prohibited under California Civil Code § 3479. Nuisances also ruin your quiet enjoyment of your home, which is prohibited under California Civil Code § 1297.

Even worse, mold presents a violation of health and safety codes.

But does bad mold growth harm me? It may, and especially if it becomes airborne. Studies have confirmed that elevated airborne spore levels can lead to or exacerbate health problems in all individuals, while others claim that the jury is out. Your physician may be able to identify mold as a source of:

  • Breathing Problems and Congestion
  • Rhinitis
  • Itchiness
  • Eye Irritation
  • Rashes and Hives
  • Fatigue
  • Diahrrea
  • Nausea
  • Exacerbation of existing auto-immune conditions

If you feel any of these symptoms at an odd time, or more frequently than usual, consult your doctor about potential mold exposure. Mold is most likely the cause of these symptoms when you know you do not have a cold or other illness, or, where you begin suffering allergy symptoms when you normally do not experience them.

So… Is There A Best Way To Tell My Landlord About My Mold Problem?
Yes. Mold is always a result of excessively damp air hanging over a poorly ventilated indoor space. For this reason, it is best to first tell your landlord about water intrusion and excess moisture.

Why not just tell them about the mold? Mold is gross, right?
Mold is obviously there – you can see it right in front of you! However, landlords are generally dismissive of complaints about mold. Most of them do not believe mold can be a real problem.

If you complain about mold, 9 out of 10 landlords will say: “So what? Mold is everywhere. There’s mold in this room right now. Just clean your house! Ugh, these tenants!” Even worse, they may say, “It’s your fault. You brought it here with your dirty couch! Clean up and get out!”

Some landlords will even appear to take the complaint seriously before leaving you hanging. These landlords often perform a simple Google search about “mold repairs,” and then tell you to apply a 10% bleach solution to the moldy area – 1 part bleach, 9 parts water. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem. For one, you probably already cleaned it. A lot. And it’s still here! For another, if mold is consistently present in your home, it likely came from some water-damaged materials that you can’t access.

Recently, local code enforcement agencies have begun refusing to inspect for mold. In the end, you typically need a private inspection to prove the presence of mold in the air.

So, is there a way to get your landlord to be responsible?
Yes. The answer lies in the connection between mold and water intrusion.

Therefore, don’t lead with, “I have a mold problem. Please clean it.” This sort of repair request will almost always be denied. Instead, try something like this:

“Dear Mr./Mrs. Landlord:

I think there is a problem with water intrusion and moisture in my home. It’s always musty in here, and I can see all this mold growing on the wall in my bedroom. That isn’t normal. It think it means there is a problem with water in my home. Can you have an inspector look at this wall? My furniture along that wall always gets moldy, and I want to live in a clean, dry, and healthy home. Thanks.”

If all else fails, hire your own mold inspector. Do a quick Google search to find a mold inspector near you.

I Have A Mold Report… But How Do I Make Sense Of This Thing?
Data. Even if you like the report’s conclusions, always look at the raw data in any mold report.

If the report does not give a conclusion, you will need to interpret the data.

If you give the report to your landlord, and they accuse you of making it up, you will need to point to the data to prove them wrong.

If your landlord gets their own report, and it says the place is clean when you know it definitely isn’t, you will need to attack the data.

There are two simple ways to use the data to determine whether or not your home truly has a mold problem:

(1) The indoor levels of a certain area are greater than outdoor levels: Because mold grows everywhere, professionals compare the indoor spore count to the outdoor spore count. This is why mold inspectors always test the outdoor mold levels as well as multiple rooms in your home.

Let’s say you’ve had a mold inspection, and your report shows a high amount of Mold X. This may mean there is a problem, but it may also mean that your neighborhood simply has a high amount of Mold X in the air. It all depends on the Outdoor/Indoor comparison.

Look at that column for Mold X on the report. If the number in the Outdoor column is lower than any number in any Indoor column, then you have a problem with Mold X in that part of your home. This usually indicates past or present water intrusion and substandard conditions.

(2) A certain type of mold stands out: Even if there is a lot of mold in your neighborhood, it’s usually limited to certain common types. Therefore, if one species of mold really stands out, you may have a problem.

This usually breaks down in two ways. First, there may be a type of mold inside that does not exist at all outside. If you see Mold X Indoors, but none Outdoors, this logically means that something inside your home is different than the surrounding environment. Even if this species is reported at a relatively low level, the presence of this unique type of mold suggests there is something different and wrong with the environment in your home.

Second, one form of mold may present a disproportionately large percentage of the molds found in your home. For example, Mold X may be present both outside and inside your home. Let’s say the Outdoors Mold X count comprises 30% of all molds Outdoors. However, Indoors, Mold X comprises 80% of all molds. This disproportionate reading indicates that something inside the premises is making your home an unusually nice place for Mold X to live in. If you are also experiencing odd health problems, you may have a problem with Mold X.

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