Mold in Your Rental Property
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rop  Mold is one of the newest environmental hazards causing concern among renters. Across the country, tenants have won multimillion-dollar cases against landlords for significant health problems — such as rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, cognitive losses, hemorrhaging, and asthma — allegedly caused by exposure to “toxic molds” in their building.

If you suspect there is mold in your Chico rental unit/property, learn what to look for. Even better, take steps to prevent mold before it becomes a problem.

Where Mold Is Found

  Mold comes in various colors and shapes. The villains — with names like stachybotrys, penicillium, aspergilus, paecilomyces, and fusarium — are black, white, green, or gray. Some are powdery, others shiny. Some molds look and smell disgusting; others are barely seen — hidden between walls, under floors and ceilings, or in less accessible spots, such as basements and attics.

Mold often grows on water-soaked materials, such as wall paneling, paint, fabric, ceiling tiles, newspapers, or cardboard boxes. Humidity sets up prime growing conditions for mold. Buildings in naturally humid climates of Texas, California, and the Southern U.S. have experienced more mold problems than residences in drier climates. But whatever the climate, mold can grow as long as moisture is present.

Mold and Your Health

  Mold is also 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 in their homes. There is no debate, however, among tenants who have suffered the consequences of living amidst (and inhaling) mold spores.

Keep in mind that most mold is not harmful to your health –for example, the mold that grows on shower tiles is not dangerous. It takes an expert to know whether a particular mold is harmful or just annoying. And it’s very 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.

Landlord Legal Responsibilities for Tenant Exposure to Mold

With a few exceptions, landlord responsibilities regarding mold have not been clearly spelled out in building codes, ordinances, statutes, or regulations.

State Laws on Mold

  Only a few states have taken steps toward establishing permissible mold standards. California, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas are among the few that have passed laws aimed at developing guidelines and regulations for mold in indoor air.

For example, California’s “Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001″ authorizes the state’s Department of Health Services (now called the Department of Health Care Services) to set permissible levels of indoor mold exposure for sensitive populations (like children, or people with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems). The California law also allows the DHCS to develop identification and remediation standards for contractors, owners, and landlords and requires landlords to disclose to current and prospective tenants the presence of any known or suspected mold. For a preliminary report on the implementation of the Act, see the DHS 2005 Report to the California Legislature, Implementation of the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001.

Local Laws on Mold

A few cities have enacted ordinances related to mold. For example:

  In San Francisco, mold is considered a legal nuisance, putting it into the same category as trash accumulation or an infestation of vermin. Tenants (and local health inspectors) can sue landlords under private and public nuisance laws if they fail to clean up serious problems. For details, check the San Francisco Department of Public Health website.

Mold Caused by Tenant Behavior

  The liability picture changes 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 a tenant’s own negligence is the sole cause of injury, the landlord is not liable.

Mold Clauses in Leases

  Some landlords include clauses in the lease that purport to relieve them from any liability resulting from mold growth. 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 i.e. the roof, plumbing, and windows. You can help by preventing mold problems in your home in the first place and promptly reporting problems that need the landlord’s attention.