Mold in Rental – What Are Your Rights?

Read your lease carefully for mold liability.

Read your lease carefully for mold liability.

Mold is quite an insidious tenant in any property—rented or owned, commercial or residential, nobody wants mold around. And it’s really not surprising, as it can cause significant health problems, including rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, memory loss and reduced brain functions, hemorrhaging, asthma—just to name a few.

Although naturally humid climates usually experience more cases of mold than in other areas, mold can grow just about anywhere water is present.

There are many thousands of species of mold; some are harmless to humans, but it takes an expert to know which mold is just annoying and which is dangerous.

Orange County tenants certainly don’t want exposure to mold, especially if children or elderly people reside in the unit. Likewise, Orange County landlords don’t want the lawsuits, especially since millions have been won against landlords in cases across the country.

Luckily, California is one of the few states that has taken steps towards establishing mold standards. Other states include Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas. (Thank goodness New Jersey does, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy!) We’re lucky, as in many cases landlord responsibilities regarding mold have not been clearly spelled out in building codes, ordinances, statutes or regulations, making it even harder for tenants to win any litigation.

Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001

California’s Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001 authorizes the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to set permissible levels of indoor mold exposure for “sensitive populations”, which includes children or those with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems.

Over the years, the DHCS has begun implementing the Act:

  • developing standards for identification and remediation that contractors, owners, and landlords must follow; and
  • requiring landlords to disclose the presence of any known or suspected mold to current or prospective tenants.

San Francisco has gone even further, enacting a local law to count mold as a legal nuisance, which puts it in the same category of trash accumulation or vermin infestation. That means that both tenants and health inspectors can sue landlords under this law if they fail to clean up serious problems.

Whether or not your state or city has enacted laws regarding mold, landlords nevertheless still have a “duty to repair.” For example, mold can be the result of a landlord failing to maintain the property, such as fixing roof or plumbing leaks. As moisture and leaks are the cause of most mold infestations, it is likely that a tenant can hold the landlord legally responsible.

However, if the tenant has left windows open during a rainstorm or failed to maintain a certain level of cleanliness, the tenant could be held responsible for resulting mold.

Orange County tenants: Read your leases carefully to learn what your obligations, as well as your landlord’s. If you have questions, ask.

Orange County landlords: Try to maintain a high level of upkeep on your properties to avoid any mold problems.

If you are concerned you may have a mold problem, call a professional like Milestone Building Group to assess the damage and provide an estimate for remediation. If you feel you have a case against your landlord or tenant, seek legal advice before acting—this article should not be considered legal advice. We know what we’re best at, and that’s water, fire, and mold remediation.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom /

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