With public awareness of toxic mold at an all-time high, people are taking unprecedented measures to protect themselves. There are cases of businesses and schools being closed due to runaway mold infestations, and mold inspection has become a regular part of buying and selling real estate.
Why, then, has the rental market not followed this trent? Over one third of adult Americans rent their homes, yet very few states have laws in place to protect tenants from the dangers of mold. Fortunately, our own State of New Jersey is among those states with mold remediation laws. Even so, mold infestations in rental properties can often be a gray area. Here are four things you can do.
Understand the law
First of all, federal law won’t be any help in terms of mold, at least not yet. That said, a handful of States have passed legislation that could help tenants with mold problems: These include New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Texas and California. Certain cities, such as NYC and San Francisco, have passed legislation on the municipal level. Check with your State and local governments to find out if there are any specific laws protecting your from mold.
Even if there are no laws about mold per se, the vast majority of States require landlords to keep their rental properties habitable and in good shap. If negligence on the part the building owner (leaking pipes, improper ventilation, old materials, etc.) has led to mold problems, the landlord will likely be responsible for the cost of mold testing and removal. If mold has appeared due to the negligence of the tenant, however, the landlord is not responsible. This is why the legal responsibility is a gray area.
Check your lease agreement
Once you’ve learned about your situation from a legal perspective, check your current lease agreement and take note of any clauses and language that pertain to the landlord maintaining a healthy, habitable environment. When you’re being exposed to mold on a daily basis, you don’t have time for a lengthy legal battle. It’s best to learn your options quickly and act decisively.
Contact your landlord
Now that you have an understanding of your lease agreement and any laws that might protect you, alert your landlord to the presence of mold and ask him or her to take action. Going about this in a threatening or aggressive way is unlikely to bring positive results. If at all possible, you don’t want to mention the lease agreement or anything about the law unless you have to. Always give your landlord a chance to resolve the problem without any conflict.
Contacting your housing association or local government
If your landlord refuses to act, and you believe you are not legally responsible for the mold problem, one possible next step is to contact a housing association or municipal government (city or county) and ask about any housing or building codes related to rental properties, and whether there is anyone who enforces these codes. It’s possible the city or county can send an inspector to your rental property and issue orders for mold remediation directly to the landlord.
The health department in your city or town may also have information about health codes and air quality.
Call a professional mold removal company for an inspection
Mold problems are time sensitive, and you may wish to know just how bad the problem is, instead of waiting days and weeks for the landlord to act. Mold testing is often affordable and sometimes even free, and gives you an expert analysis on how bad the problem really is. This is an indispensable step if you believe the landlord to be in violation of building or health codes; but even if the landlord leaves you to deal with the problem on your own, an inspection can help you decide whether it’s worth taking legal action, paying for mold removal yourself, or terminating the lease to avoid possible health risks.
If you live in a rental property and have a possible mold problem, we hope you’ve found this article informative. Please leave your questions and comments below.