Entering into a lease agreement can be a confusing and scary venture. Determining rental costs, whether utilities are covered, and several other stipulations can cause a huge headache for even the most experienced renter. However, one important issue that should always be addressed prior to signing a lease is the landlord’s obligations in regards to mold infestations. Indiana, famous for the Wabash River which stretches 411 miles east of the Mississippi, can be a great place to rent an apartment or house. But as mentioned above, it is imperative that current or potential tenants fully understand their rights as renters.
Mold is considered a biological contaminant that can cause adverse health effects in even the healthiest individual. Any variety of mold spores can cause allergic symptoms, which include an irritated throat, cough, runny, congested nasal passage, and constant sneezing. There are other types of mold, referred to as toxic molds, which can cause more severe reactions. One of the most toxic molds is Stachybotrys chartarum, which can cause a plethora of ailments. Some of the more severe reactions to exposure include: damage to the kidneys, immune system, and nervous system, as well as brain damage, respiratory arrest, and even death. Some individuals—including the immune-compromised, the elderly, and children—are more susceptible to these reactions. If any of the occupants have asthma, it is important to avoid exposure to all forms of mold. Mold can trigger severe asthma attacks, resulting in respiratory arrest. This is why it is imperative to test for suspected mold, to determine if it is necessary to remove the toxic material.
Before putting pen to paper, you should discuss with your future landlord what obligations they have in terms of inspection, testing, and removal of potential mold. In a few choice states, laws have been established that deal with tenants rights when mold growth is discovered in a rental property. Indiana, unfortunately, does not have legislation that focuses primarily on tenant’s rights and mold discovery. It does, however, have legislation that deals with mold in state or public agencies, as well as general provisions in the Landlord & Tenant Handbook.
Susan McDonald a Linton, IN resident, is one of the many proponents behind mold legislation regarding tenant and landlord rights in the state of Indiana. Ms. McDonald has been dealing with ailments caused by toxic mold exposure for nearly 4 years after her rental property was overrun by the toxic fungus. She informed her landlord of the issue, who stated he could remedy the situation for her with a little soapy water. Having done research on the proper way to remove mold from a structure, Ms. McDonald knew this would not do the trick. From the moment that mold began to fester within the walls of her home, Ms. McDonald has had to deal with a variety of ailments, including burning eyes and throat, open sores on her ears and mouth, body aches, muscle pains, numerous sinus infections, extreme fatigue, eye infections, headaches, acid reflux, dizziness, itchy skin, numbness in her face and limbs and chronic runny nose. Her doctor states that she may have to deal with many of these problems for the rest of her life. Not only has Ms. McDonald’s health been put in jeopardy, but she has also had to discard much of her property since it was contaminated by the extensive mold growth in her home. Because of her ordeal, Ms. McDonald has contacted the mayor of Linton, Tom Jones, to whom she described her problem and lobbied for mold-related legislation. Ms. McDonald said the reason she spoke out about the incident was to provide a warning to future tenants in the state of Indiana. “It’s too late for me,” she says. “But it’s not too late for the next tenant.” This is why it is important to understand your rights as a tenant and the steps you can take to ensure that your unit is habitable.
As mentioned above, there exists no legislation in the state of Indiana that focuses specifically on tenant’s rights in regards to mold infestation. There are bills, however, that have been passed to protect state and public agencies. House Bill 1704, passed in April 2003, allows the Indiana Health Department to perform indoor air quality (IAQ) inspections in public buildings occupied by state or public agencies. This indicates that, at least at the state level, Indiana government officials are giving support to the claim that mold exposure can cause adverse health effects in humans. However, many of the issues that these officials advocate for have been pushed to the wayside due to severe budget cuts. Although state law is very limited on the subject, there are existing tenant and landlord provisions that can be used to argue who is responsible for mold growth or water damage in a unit. The Office of Code Revision Indiana Legislative Services Agency (IC 32-31-8-5) details the landlord’s obligations to the tenant. One of the obligations is that the landlord must deliver the rental premises to a tenant in compliance with the rental agreement, and in a safe, clean, and habitable condition. They must also make sure that the HVAC system is in working order and that proper ventilation exists in the unit. The landlord is also required to comply with all health and housing codes applicable to the rental premises. This would include fixing leaks and moisture intrusions (that were not caused by the tenant) that can result in mold growth. It can be argued that a landlord’s negligence in failing to repair a leak or moisture intrusion contributed directly to the existence of mold in the unit. This could then indicate that the landlord is now responsible for the inspection and removal of all mold and contaminated materials. Of course, unless the landlord agrees to remove the mold, it may be necessary to take your case to court. Prior to taking any legal steps it is advised that you contact a lawyer in the area who is well versed in mold litigation.
The following are steps that can be taken if you are a tenant in the state of Indiana and have discovered or suspect the presence of mold in your home. First, make sure to document all actions taken in regards to the mold detection. Write a letter detailing the problem with the unit and the actions you wish your landlord to take and in what time frame. In many cases suspected or known mold growth is accompanied by a leak or moisture intrusion of some kind. If there is a leak or excessive amount of moisture in the unit, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix the problem. Again, if these conditions are the fault of the tenant, it is the tenant’s responsibility to remedy the issue, not the landlord. After detailing your complaint in writing, send it to the landlord via certified mail. This will give you documentation that the landlord received the letter. Include any images of the problem. Make sure to keep a copy of the complaint letter for your records as well as any images you attached. If the landlord refuses to fix the problem in a reasonable time frame, you may have to take the landlord to court. Again, contact a lawyer prior to taking further action, as they can provide more detailed information on the subject. If you are the prevailing party in litigation against your landlord you may be able to recover the following as per code IC 32-31-8-6: actual damages and consequential damages, attorney’s fees and court costs, injunctive relief, or any other remedy appropriate under the circumstances.
As a current or future Indiana resident, it is crucial to know your rights as a tenant in this state. One of these rights includes the right to a safe, habitable home. Due to the possible adverse health effects associated with mold exposure, if a structure contains high levels of toxic mold spores it should be deemed uninhabitable. If you know or suspect that mold may be present on your rental property, having the proper mold inspection and testing done will indicate if your suspicions are founded. Do not put your life, or the lives of the ones you love, in jeopardy.