Mold Mold Mold

A tenant has reported black mold. I don’t want to make any mistakes. How should I proceed?

First, notice an entry to inspect the site of contamination.  Please do not attempt to clean up the mold yourself.  Hire a professional and reputable mold remediation company to accompany you so that a proper remediation plan may be implemented forthwith.  Mold contamination is indeed a serious problem in rental housing.

Mold is the symptom of a water issue and cleaning with bleach products is usually effective unless the problem is so severe that plaster and sheetrock need to be replaced.  Many people are sensitive to mold.  Exposure to mold may cause nasal stuffiness, wheezing, or skin irritation, and in some instances mold exposure can cause sickness and even death.  So please take the complaint seriously and act promptly.

Once you access the impacted area(s) and develop, in conjunction with your mold remediation company, a concise plan to remove the outbreak, identify the source of the problem.  Simply cleaning the impacted areas is not a permanent solution, as the mold will reappear within a short period of time if the moisture returns.  As such, find the source of the water/moisture intrusion and address it.  Sometimes mold is the result of a roof leak or other external building membrane defect that allows moisture to accumulate.  In some instances, the residents’ habits may be to blame, such as failing to properly ventilate the bathroom when showering or not opening windows to permit airflow.  Regardless of the cause, this is your problem.  As the housing provider, you are under an obligation to maintain rental housing is a habitable condition.  The existence of visible mold growth is usually tantamount to a breach of this warranty of habitability, and you may not pass off such maintenance and repair responsibilities to your tenants. 

The SFAA lease agreement now contains two mold addendums.  One, entitled Mold Addendum, requests that residents report mold immediately to management and to properly ventilate the bathroom to prevent moisture accumulation.  The second, Information on Dampness and Mold for Renters in California, was written and disseminated by the California Department of Public Health and provides an overview of mold contamination and its health impact on residents.  If your rental agreement does not include both documents, please disseminate them to your tenants with a change-in-terms-of-tenancy notice, as all renters, regardless of when their tenancy began, should have the contents of this literature incorporated into their rental agreements.

Residents impacted by mold contamination may bring a civil lawsuit against their landlord for damages.  Insurance companies are increasingly unwilling to insure owners for these claims, thereby underscoring the need to quickly respond to mold complaints with a professional mold remediation company and to remediate the growth both in the outbreak spots and inside the wall and ceiling areas where the moisture may have originated.  Do not cut corners, and do not pressure your tenant to reimburse you for remediation costs even if you believe they created the problem.  Remember, you have the obligation to provide housing free of toxic contamination, and defending a mold lawsuit without insurance coverage may be financially devastating. 

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