If you live in Florida, you already know that mold is rampant. News reports appear almost daily of another home, school, or church that has been temporarily closed in order to clean out the spores. You probably also know that mold can be seriously detrimental to one’s health. With hundreds of thousands of strains of mold and fungi, the great majority are considered quite harmless. Unfortunately, there are still a handful that can be dangerous to the health of humans and animals. Some strains of mold spores can be just mildly irritating, causing problems like sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. But other strains can create much more serious health problems, especially in people with weakened immune systems, such as children or the elderly. These problems could range from lung infections and cancer to brain damage, and, in very rare circumstances, death.
This is why a handful of states have already created mold-specific laws to protect their residents from the damaging effects of mold-infestations. The bad news is that Florida, along with most states in America, is still without any laws pertaining to mold and public health. The good news is that there are steps you can take in order to keep yourself, as well as your family and loved ones, safe and healthy.
So, what should you do if you begin to suspect that your rented property may have a mold infestation? The first step would be to file a complaint with the Department of Health, as it is their duty to monitor any issues of sanitary nuisance and poor living conditions. The State of Florida Department of Health defines a sanitary nuisance as the following: “…the commission of any act, by an individual, municipality, organization, or corporation, or the keeping, maintaining, propagation, existence, or permission of anything, by an individual, municipality, organization, or corporation, by which the health or life of an individual, or the health or lives of individuals, may be threatened or impaired, or by which or through which, directly or indirectly, disease may be caused.” (Florida Statute Chapter 386.01).
Due to its potentially carcinogenic and even deadly capabilities, mold can certainly be categorized as something that can threaten the health of individuals. It’s imperative to stay on the problem until it’s taken care of. To ensure that the Department of Health looks into the complaint and does an inspection, you will need to get at least two other people to file a complaint, as stated in Florida Statute Chapter 386.02 (“The Department of Health, upon request of the proper authorities, or of any three responsible resident citizens, or whenever it may seem necessary to the department, shall investigate the sanitary condition of any city, town, or place in the state; and if, upon examination, the department shall ascertain the existence of any sanitary nuisance as herein defined, it shall serve notice upon the proper party or parties to remove or abate the said nuisance or, if necessary, proceed to remove or abate the said nuisance in the manner provided in s. 823.01.”). These could be concerned neighbors, other members of your family, or even friends or roommates.
Now, it’s possible that the Department of Health doesn’t do anything, or they determine that it’s not in their interest to come check up on the mold situation in your home. The next step for you would be to try and appeal to your landlord to get the issue dealt with. An important thing to keep in mind when you begin dealing with your landlord is that some landlords are very accommodating and will want to help with the situation, and some landlords can be very difficult and unsympathetic, even lazy. It can be difficult to determine which type of landlord you have until you come across a messy and potentially expensive problem with your property, such as mold contamination. So the best way to proceed is to remember to always keep careful documentation of every interaction you have with your landlord and make sure to get everything in writing. This is an important precaution in case a situation arises and your landlord is difficult to work with regarding the issue. If the matter ends up in court then documentation could save you.
The first action to take with your landlord: Write a letter explaining the situation, letting him/her know about the mold issue, and quoting the building/health code that they are violating. Another helpful course of action is to schedule a mold testing company to come out to property to conduct a mold inspection. A professional mold inspector that conducts indoor air tests can determine if there are high levels of toxic or potentially toxic mold spores in your indoor environment. The resulting mold inspection report can be used as evidence of an existing problem in your correspondence. Keep copies of any correspondence that you send to your landlord, noting when they were sent. Always send letters via Certified Mail with Delivery Confirmation so you have an official record that the item was sent and delivered.
Next, give your landlord written notice stating that you intend to withhold rent if he/she does not begin fixing the mold situation within 7 days. It may be wise to quote the code which the landlord is in violation of along with the statute regarding rent withholding.
If your landlord does not respond to your letter and you have already filed a Housing Code Complaint, your next step may be to withhold rent in order to force the issue. It’s important to note that there are only two reasons that justify the withholding of rent in the state of Florida, “The landlord must keep your housing in conformity with all building, housing and health codes. If no codes apply, the landlord must maintain the structural components and plumbing in good repair. (Fla. Stat. § 83.51(1)(a),(b)).” If you are going to continue along the path of withholding rent, it’s highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer. The attorney may recommend that you seek out a mold inspection with indoor air mold testing so that you have professional documentation of an existing problem.
Be sure that all rent you are withholding is being kept in an isolated savings account. If the courts determine that you need to pay withheld rent, you will only be given 5 days to pay the rent due or your landlord can evict you. If you withhold rent for two or more months, it’s a good idea to send notice to your landlord for each rent payment before it is due, stating your intent to withhold rent and why. Keep in mind that Florida law does not allow you to make repairs or clean up mold yourself and deduct the costs from your rent.
Now, if the mold problem is bad enough that you are developing adverse health reactions, you have the right to move out after you have given your landlord a seven-day written notice. Just know that if your landlord decides to sue you for any unpaid rent, you will need to provide all unpaid rent to the court for safe keeping until the case of unpaid rent is decided upon. Whatever you do, do not pay your landlord back any unpaid rent, as doing so shows that you accept the conditions of the apartment, the conditions that put your health in danger.
None of this may be necessary should your landlord be reasonable and have any mold situation dealt with in a timely manner. However, if you inaction requires you to become more involved with the matter, be sure to consult with an attorney and do your research before beginning the processes outlined above. Legal battles regarding matters such as this can oftentimes be lengthy and expensive.
Throughout it all, it’s important to remember that certain mold spores in high concentrations in your indoor breathing air can have lasting adverse health effects that may often seem trivial initially. Act in the best interest of your health and the health of your family, and remember that as a citizen of Florida, you have the right to a safe living environment.
For more information about tenant rights in the State of Florida 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.