Recently, one of our tenants has been complaining that her nose is stuffed up whenever she is in the building and that she believes there is mold. We looked, but did not see any. Still, she believes it is there and is asking us if she can break her lease. What should we do?
Mold is an increasingly common complaint amongst tenants. More and more, tenants are citing the presence of mold as a basis to withhold rent, file a lawsuit against the owner, and/or to break a rental agreement. Equally as troubling is the fact the most insurance carriers now exclude mold claims from coverage, meaning any court action for mold-related injuries are uninsured and therefore the responsibility of the owner.
Make sure that your lease agreement contains the one-page Mold Addendum that is, and has been for many years, an attachment to the SFAA Lease Agreement. If the rental agreement does not contain this or a similar type of mold disclosure, please amend existing leases to include it by distributing the document to current tenants. The purpose of the Mold Addendum is to educate residents about mold growth and how it can be prevented. Indeed, mold problems often emanate from the tenant failing to properly ventilate bathrooms or kitchens.
Since you have received a mold complaint, in addition to your own investigation you should also engage one of the professional “Asbestos, Mold & Lead Remediation” companies to conduct a thorough investigation and possible remediation. There are several SFAA Associate Members that perform these services.
If the professional mold remediation company finds a mold source either inside of the tenant’s unit or the building, follow the recommendation to remediate the problem immediately. If the air and surface analysis does not reveal a mold problem, you should inform the tenant that, upon receipt of a professionally prepared report, there is no evidence of harmful mold growth inside of the building.
The next question is whether or not the tenant should be excused from the lease. If there is no finding of mold contamination, then there is no reason to rescind the parties’ obligations under the rental agreement. If, on the other hand, a mold source is detected and cannot be quickly remediated, you may want to allow the tenant to vacate. Yet as part of this agreement to leave, the tenant should sign a full release and waiver of claims so that you are not subjected to a lawsuit for mold injuries at a later time. Please have an attorney prepare this documentation.
Finally, always be responsive to mold complaints. As an owner, you need to promptly address potential mold problems that are reported to you. Although mold is everywhere and has been around for millions of years, certain types of mold growths can be harmful, and you do not want a tenant to develop personal injuries while living in your property.