Renter’s rights can vary widely from state to state, especially as they concern mold damage and mold removal. If you suspect that there is mold in your rental property, you have certain rights that can help you get mold tested and removed, as well as rights to help you break a lease so that you can escape a potentially hazardous living environment. This article is intended to inform Michigan tenants of the rights they have when they suspect that there is mold in their apartment, house, trailer, or loft. First, we’ll detail exactly why mold in your residence is such a problem and why it ought to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Broadly speaking, mold is a fungus that breaks down organic material. There are thousands of different kinds of molds found in the natural world, all of which decompose various biological material—like fallen tree trunks—so that organic matter can be returned to the soil. Of the thousands of types of molds, only a handful are actually considered toxic. These toxic molds can cause harm to humans and animals because they release mycotoxins—tiny, unseen particles—into the air, which can enter a person’s lungs. Once inside the lungs, the particles, or spores, will cause several adverse health effects. Some of the most common health hazards associated with toxic mold are respiratory problems, which include the trigger of allergy symptoms and asthma attacks. Flu-like symptoms can develop, including irritated eyes, headaches, sore throat, a general feeling of tiredness, skin rashes, coughing, sneezing, and trouble breathing. The symptoms of toxic mold exposure are more pronounced in the elderly, children, people with immune system weaknesses, and people with previous respiratory conditions, such as those suffering from asthma and allergies. Given the right conditions, even molds that are considered non-toxic can cause problems for otherwise healthy people.
Renters in the great state of Michigan should be made aware of the dangers of mold in their homes. As Michiganders well know, winters can bring harsh conditions—freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, rain, and wind. The summers can be hot and sticky. Michigan is mold-conducive environment because of a combination of factors: The moisture from Michigan weather patterns, the state’s position as a peninsula in the Great Lakes region, and the fact that renters typically have to keep their homes shut from the outside conditions. Older homes and apartment complexes in Michigan cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids, Sterling Heights, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Flint, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, and Midland may already contain moisture leaks and mold growth. Additionally, Michigan, like many parts of the country, has been affected by the foreclosure crisis. When homes sit closed-up for long periods of time, they become prime targets for unchecked mold growth. Michigan renters ought to be especially concerned about exposure to mold in their residences. Knowing your legal rights as a tenant will help you if and when mold growth becomes a problem in your home.
In recent years, news of mold-based illnesses has grabbed national headlines. Most of the attention has focused on so-called “black mold,” stachybotrys chartarum or stachybotrys atra. Several famous cases of mold-related sickness, disease, and death have forced the general public, which had been largely unaware of the problem, to sit up and take notice. Michigan residents, for instance, might recall the famous black mold case in nearby Cleveland, Oho in 1994. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigated several incidents of acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage (pulmonary hemosiderosis) in 10 Ohio infants, initially concluding that the hemorrhages were “associated with 1) major household water damage during the 6 months before illness and 2) increased levels of measurable household fungi, including the toxin-producing mold S[tachybotrys] chartarum (syn. S[tachybotrys] atra).” Later investigations by the CDC suggested that more evidence was needed to draw such a conclusion. However, the infant illnesses resulted in media exposure and lawsuits, increasing the public’s knowledge of dangerous mold. Many Michigan renters learned of the legal steps they can take to either avoid mold or receive monetary compensation from mold-related damages and health effects.
Inside the state of Michigan, mold lawsuits are becoming more and more common as the population learns how preventable toxic mold exposure can be when the right steps are taken. Multi-million dollar decisions have been awarded to ordinary Americans who have had their health and property damaged from mold as a result of negligence on the part of landlords, insurance corporations, and construction companies. However, attaining a legal advantage with a mold case in the state of Michigan can be difficult. Currently there are no federal laws that regulate the amount of mold exposure permissible in a rental property. Neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can force landlords to test for mold in their buildings before any mold has been discovered. Only five states, California, New Jersey, Texas, Indiana, and Maryland, have state-wide mold regulations. Some U.S. cities and counties have passed their own ordinances which regulate renter’s rights as they pertain to mold. Make sure to check the local codes for any renter’s rights above and beyond the minimum standards of habitability.
Even though mold is not specifically addressed in Michigan renter’s rights laws, there are several ways to address a mold problem by using basic tenant laws about health and safety. Michigan state law, like the laws of many other states throughout the country, requires that landlords maintain habitable living conditions in their buildings. State laws also require that landlords make necessary repairs within a certain time limit after receiving written notice of a problem. According to the Michigan Tenants and Landlords Guide, state law allows the landlord a “reasonable time” between the moment a landlord receives notice that a repair needs to be done and the time when the repair is actually made. The City of Detroit Department of Buildings, Safety, and Engineering (BS&E) has been tasked with, among other things, writing building repair tickets for landlords and protecting renters who have made repair requests from retaliatory eviction notices in the city of Detroit.
In most cases, if the repairs have not been addressed by the landlord, the tenant can withhold rent payment or deduct from his or her rent the cost of having the repairs done by a contractor. Certified mold inspection and remediation technicians can be hired to safely and effectively insure that your property is free from mold. If the landlord has failed to make the residence habitable, the tenant can break the lease and move out immediately, or hire a professional to do the work and deduct the cost from the rent payment.
Since mold is oftentimes the result of water leaks from construction flaws, landlords can be made to fix both the leaks and the mold. Of course, if the mold is a result of damage caused by the tenant’s negligence, the landlord cannot be held responsible. For instance, if a renter’s waterbed leaks and mold grows on the carpet as a result, the landlord cannot be held liable for repairs. Indeed, if the renter does not fix a problem of his or her own making, the Landlord can deduct repair costs from the tenant’s security deposit at the end of the lease agreement.
You should consult a licensed attorney before withholding rent or attempting to take legal action against a landlord. Whenever possible, make sure correspondence with your landlord is in writing and done through certified mail. Take pictures and note any and all actions you take to get your repairs fixed. This can help in the event you have to take your landlord to court over mold and water damage to your rental property.
Of course, long before exercising your Michigan renter’s rights, you should take steps to avoid trouble before it starts. Never rent a home or apartment that already contains mold. Make sure you inspect the property yourself, looking for any signs of water damage, visible mold, or a musty smell. Bathrooms, kitchens, and basements are among the most common places mold can grow in a home. Ask your landlord if there has been flooding or water damage to the property in the past. Also, make sure you keep your property well ventilated. Have your landlord fix every malfunction, even minor problems, as soon as you detect them. You don’t want a leak in the sink to turn into a major mold maelstrom. When it comes to mold in your Michigan rental property, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of remediation.