The state of Arizona is a desert landscape known for hot summers, stunning sunsets, and the Grand Canyon. The average rainfall is 12.7 inches. However, those 12.7 inches of rainfall tend to come from summer monsoons, which often bring torrential downpours and flash floods. Many homes in Arizona are simply not built to handle high amounts of rain and can often end up with leaks and water damage, which can lead to structural damage and even indoor mold. For this reason, it is important for all those who rent within the state of Arizona to know their rights when it comes to habitable living conditions, and the steps they can take if such conditions are not met.
For Robin Minium, this became an awful reality when she was exposed to toxic mold in her Scottsdale apartment for over two years. She had become extremely ill, and neither her, nor her doctor could explain why she was being plagued with such ailments. One of Ms. Minium’s neighbors finally indicated that there had been a mold issue in the complex for quite some time. Both her and her doctor felt that her symptoms were consistent to prolonged exposure to toxic mold. For many individuals, merely removing themselves from the toxic material would result in an end to their health issues. Ms. Minium was not so lucky and “she now suffers from a neuro-cognitive disorder that affects her short term memory.” It was because of this that Ms. Minium was able to take civil action and sue the property management company that owned the complex she had lived in “for failing to maintain the premises in a condition fit for human occupation.” She was awarded over $3 million for the injuries she incurred as a result of the negligence of her landlord.
Although this story ends with the tenant receiving compensation for the injuries she sustained, she still must deal with the ongoing ailments that will continue to plague her for the rest of her life. It is important to understand that avoidance of such outcomes is possible and had Ms. Minium’s neighbors known and understood their renter’s rights, it is possible that Ms. Minium’s condition could have been less severe.
Some states have begun to add clauses to their tenant law and health codes that deal primarily with the existence of mold in a home or apartment, unfortunately Arizona is not one of those states. There are however, statutes that indicate that mold does in fact make a home uninhabitable. The health department of Arizona, for example, follows the standards set forth by the EPA in regards to mold exposure and removal. The department also includes resources like the website for CDC (Centers for Disease Control) that also indicates that toxic mold exposure is detrimental to a person’s health and would make a living space uninhabitable if such a contaminant were present.
Chapter 10, Article 2 of section 33-1324 of the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act states that the Landlord must maintain a “fit” environment for the occupants of the said rental. The Arizona Tenants Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, is yet another resource that indicates the obligation of the landlord to provide a habitable environment for their tenants. The Tenant Handbook discusses a tenant’s right to habitable living conditions in a rental and what action can be taken if such conditions are not met or maintained.
If you suspect that there may be toxic mold within your residence, it is important to take immediate action. Some of the health hazards associated with exposure to toxic mold include but are not limited to the following: damage to the nervous system, immune system, respiratory system, the kidneys, and even the brain. More common reactions to exposure are: runny nose, itchy throat, problems breathing, asthma, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and a number of other symptoms.
As a tenant in Arizona, it is important to follow certain guidelines, to ensure that your rights are not violated and that your residence is made habitable. As it states under the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, your landlord is required to “meet the requirements of local building and health codes regarding the condition of your home.” If for some reason the landlord fails to do so, you may take the following action; In the case of toxic mold exposure, which is a health issue, you may demand that the landlord remove the problem within five days of your complaint. Make sure that your complaint is in writing and that you have more than one copy on your person. Send the complaint certified mail, so that you can maintain a paper trail of your attempts to have the landlord fix the problem, should your landlord fail to act on his/her legal requirements. If the landlord fails to make the repairs within the five day time frame, you can terminate your lease and move out. If you are unable to move out, you may then “file a lawsuit asking the court to force your landlord to do the repairs; you will also be able to sue for damages” at this time. Again, make sure to have all documentation present when you file in the court system.
Depending on the cost of repairs, anything less than $300 or up to half your monthly rent may be done at the expense of the landlord. You must remember to use a licensed contractor for said repairs. In order to deduct the cost from your rent, you must give the landlord written notice, but also include that you will be making the repairs yourself if the landlord does nothing in five days. If after the five days, the landlord has not repaired the issue, a licensed contractor can be hired to make the repairs. Make sure to get an “itemized bill” of all services rendered. Also make sure to have the contractor sign a “waiver of lien.” It is at this point that you must give your landlord notice that the repairs have been made, along with the bill of service and the waiver of lien. You must also indicate that you will be subtracting the cost of repairs from you next month’s rent. It is very important to follow each of the above mentioned steps, as per the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act or your claim may be invalid.
As mentioned above, all repairs must be performed by a licensed contractor and in the case of mold, you should also use a certified inspector to determine if toxic mold is even present. The EPA has also set in place specific standards for the removal of toxic materials from a building so it is very important to hire a contractor with knowledge of such protocol.
As a tenant in Arizona, it is imperative that you understand completely your rights as a renter and the steps you can take if you feel that your health or the health of your family is in jeopardy.
Refer to the specific Arizona law for further information and details prior to taking action: http://www.azag.gov/civil_rights/TenantRightsResponsibilities.pdf
For more information about tenant rights and how an inspection can help determine if you have a problem at your property, call us at 1-866-358-3838 or email us here.