Alaska is well known for several reasons, one of which is its massive size. It is not only the largest U.S. state, but it is also larger than all but 18 countries throughout the world. Alaska was settled by individuals who crossed the Bering Land Bridge several hundred years ago. It has been theorized that most of America’s original inhabitants traveled this route from Asia, eventually making their way south. This region is known for its many glaciers, numerous lakes and rivers, large mountain ranges, active volcanoes, and tidal shoreline. It is also the home of the Aurora borealis or “Northern Lights.” This phenomenon causes a luminous glow in the upper atmosphere and is caused by energetic particles entering the atmosphere from above. Although this state is home to several natural wonders, it is also a prime location for the growth of mold, especially within indoor environments. If you plan to rent your home or are currently a renter in the state of Alaska it is important to fully understand your rights as a tenant. Know what your landlord is obligated to fix and make sure to read thoroughly over your lease prior to signing it.
Understanding what mold is and how it grows can help significantly in its detection, removal, and prevention. Mold is considered to be a biological contaminant that can cause a series of health problems after exposure. In many instances mold growth cannot be detected with visible inspection and may require air quality testing to determine if it is present in a home. Mold can be festering in a home and yet go undetected for weeks, months or even years. All mold needs to spread is a little bit of moisture and organic material, such as wood.
In Alaska, the prevalence of rain and snow can cause severe moisture intrusions within a rental unit or home. In high enough quantities mold can cause adverse health effects in just about anyone. Some of the more mild responses to exposure include allergic reaction, nasal congestion, throat irritation, cough, nose bleeding, and flu-like symptoms. The more severe reactions are generally the result of exposure to mold species Stachybotrys chartarum, better known as “toxic mold” or “black mold.” This type of mold can cause the following reactions: kidney damage, damage to the immune system, nervous system damage, brain damage, and even death. For those with upper respiratory problems, such as asthma, mold exposure can exacerbate their conditions. The immune-compromised, the elderly, and young children are especially prone to the severe reactions to mold. This is why as a tenant it is imperative that you fully understand who is responsible for the cost to remove such a contaminant from your home. The existence of mold in a home can deem the property uninhabitable and cause its occupants to become ill.
In Anchorage, Alaska for example, the former Northern Lights Hotel has stood for several years in the midtown area without being properly maintained. Due to improper construction, this building has suffered several disasters related to fire and flood. As the building was bought and resold, these problems have perpetually gotten worse. In several instances the acting fire marshal, James Gray, has had to determine whether this building was even worth saving. Police officer Kevin Mitchell claimed that his department used to do routine SWAT practice in the empty building. Nowadays he will not even enter the structure without a hazmat suit. He continued by stating that he “knew that water in the basement caused significant mold.” There were also dead birds and excrement present in the hazardous dwelling. “The word he used was ‘atrocious,’” said Anita Shell, APD spokeswoman.
In many instances landlords will attempt to rent or sell such facilities to unknowing buyers. This is the case even with apartment complexes and homes that have suffered past water damage and are now infested with mold. This is why it is imperative that you ask your future landlord to disclose any past water damage that may have occurred on the property. This can indicate if mold growth may be occurring or if future water damage is more likely to take place.
Prior to signing a lease it is important to discuss the obligations of your landlord beforehand. Know what your landlord feels is his or her responsibility, which includes the existence of excessive mold growth. If the landlord agrees to repair damages associated with mold growth, it is important to get this clause in writing and attach it to the lease agreement. That way if in the future you begin to notice mold growth in the unit, the landlord is required to fix the problem.
If you are an existing tenant in the state of Alaska it is necessary to fully understand what options you may have if mold has infiltrated your home. As with several other states, Alaska’s Landlord & Tenant Act indicates that the landlord is required to “make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.” Due to the toxic effects associated with mold exposure, excessive mold growth could result in a building becoming uninhabitable. Not only that, but it is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain the plumbing, ventilation, and HVAC unit at all times. They must also maintain the “doors, windows, roof, floors, walls and ceilings, ensuring that they do not leak or have holes.” This would of course include the repair of any leaks which may have contributed to an existing mold infestation. It is also suggested that you contact your local Housing Authority to determine if any laws or codes exist that apply specifically to mold infestations in a rental unit.
If you have determined that your rental has a mold problem, or suspect there may be one, it is important to contact your landlord immediately. It is also suggested that you contact a lawyer to help assist you in your next course of action. The first step to follow in this particular situation is to document the existing problem within your unit. Do this in writing and if possible take pictures of the damage. Send your request for repairs to your landlord, with any appropriate images, via certified mail. This will provide you with evidence that the landlord not only received the letter, but also on what day. Make copies of all documents or pictures sent to your landlord in case litigation is your only option. Now even if the landlord determines they are not responsible for the testing or removal of the mold, they are still required to fix any leaks or moisture intrusions that led to the mold growth. Again, contacting a lawyer is necessary if the landlord refuses to make the repairs as it is likely you will have to go to court.
Alaska’s undeniable natural beauty can be alluring to many potential tenants. However, it is important that you fully understand yours rights as a tenant in this state prior to making any solid commitment to a rental agreement. Make sure to ask your landlord what they deem as their obligation and if they are willing to be responsible for mold removal. If you are already a tenant in this state, make sure to document all the problems with the unit completely. Regardless of your living situation you have the right to healthy and habitable home.