Oregon has an extensive history, from several architectural landmarks, to a lush ecological environment, and of course the end of the Oregon Trail. However, what many are not aware of is that Oregon’s weather patterns set up the perfect conditions for the growth of mold. Even during the summer months there can be excess rain, which keeps landscape wet year-round.
For example, during June of 2010 many Oregonians referred to the month as “Junuary.” The reason for this nickname was due to the continuous precipitation that plagued Oregon during this time. The constant moisture in Oregon allows for mold to fester in the walls of homes, offices, and schools. Residents of Oregon who are renting their home need to understand their Oregon tenant rights as they pertain to water damage and mold.
Living in a clean, healthy environment is important to all people, and studies have indicated the disastrous consequences of exposure to high levels of mold. In many instances, the detection of mold on a property may not happen for several months, to several years. Mold can be trapped inside walls, in drywall, ceilings, basements, and other hidden areas in a home or apartment. Some states have even begun to put laws in place that deal specifically with the detection and removal of mold from rental properties. Oregon, unfortunately, is not one of those states. However, it should be noted that several governmental bodies, including the Oregon Health Department, have released statements about the detrimental health effects of mold exposure. It should be noted that federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), agree that mold exposure can have negative health effects.
Mold is considered a biological contaminant and, as mentioned above, can begin to grow rapidly if the right environmental conditions are met. The main ingredient for the growth of a mold colony is moisture, something of which Oregon has plenty. Mold can grow in places unseen by the human eye and in some cases can emit a musty odor, which is another indication of the presence of mold.
There are several reasons why the testing and removal of mold is necessary in a building. The first is that mold can do structural damage to a building. The second, and most important, is that mold can cause adverse health effects in humans. Some of the symptoms of mold exposure include irritated, itchy eyes, rash, skin sensitivity, bloody noses, nasal congestion, throat irritation, cough and flu-like symptoms. Some of the more severe reactions to exposure include damage to the kidneys, nervous system, immune system, memory lapses, brain damage, respiratory problems, exacerbation of asthma, and even death. The more severe reactions generally strike those with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and children. If you suspect mold is present in your rental home or apartment, it is important that you have the proper testing and removal done immediately.
It should be noted that this article is intended to help educate Oregon residents on their renter’s rights and should not replace speaking with an attorney if you suspect mold is present in your home. It could be argued that if mold is present in a rental, as per the 2009 Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS 90.320), that the landlord may be directly responsible for the conditions necessary for mold growth. For example, it is the landlords’ responsibility to ensure the unit is properly waterproofed, weather protected, and has the proper ventilation mechanisms in place. If one of these responsibilities is not met, the landlord is setting up a situation in which mold can begin to colonize. Also, according to the Office of the City Auditor for Portland, OR as per Chapter 29.30 Housing Maintenance Requirements: 29.30.120 Interior Dampness: “Every dwelling, including basements and crawl spaces, shall be maintained reasonably free from dampness to prevent conditions conducive to decay, mold growth, or deterioration of the structure.”
There was even a court case in March of 2005 that involved a family living in a newly-built home in Oregon that, due to poor construction, became infested with mold. After only living in the home for 5 months, the family members, including two young children, became very ill because of the mold. The jury found that due to the negligence of the construction company in working with wet building materials the builders were not only responsible for the mold growth, but also the subsequent illness of the family. The family was awarded nearly half a million dollars for the damages and injuries they incurred. This case illustrates the negative health effects of mold growth. Although the family was given compensation for their injuries, their children’s health problems will most likely be chronic, meaning long-lasting.
If you suspect that mold is present in your rental home and that an existing leak or moisture intrusion that was not your fault has occurred, you must contact your landlord immediately. It is in fact his or her responsibility to fix any waterproofing, ventilation, or leak problems on the property. Make sure to document physical evidence if any of the above problems have occurred (i.e. take pictures, etc.). Write a letter to your landlord/property management company and state the problems you are having in your rental. To ensure that the landlord has received your complaint, make sure to send it through certified mail. Give the property management approximately 7-10 days to make contact with your or to begin repairs. If the landlord fails to respond, you have a few options. Again, contacting a lawyer prior to making a move is the soundest advice.
One option for getting repairs made is to give your landlord a 30-day notice that indicates you will be moving out if the landlord fails to make the repairs in that time frame. By law, if the landlord does not make the needed repairs in this time frame, and you decide to terminate your lease, they are required to return your security deposit and all prepaid rent. If you do not wish to leave the premises you may file a lawsuit that will require the property manager to fix the problem. This option also allows you to sue for damages including loss of value on the rental property and any costs incurred because of the problem. This, of course, only applies if the problem was not caused by you, your child, or any guest you had on the property.
In some cases you can withhold rent until the problem has been properly remedied. This option, however, requires that you follow very specific steps. It can also lead to the landlord evicting you. Again, this is why it is important to contact a lawyer prior to making any decisions in regards to withholding rent. You should also contact your local Health or Safety code enforcement agency for even more information. In terms of having mold testing and removal done, unless the landlord agrees to do this for you, you will most likely have to go to court to have the problem resolved that way.
For Portland residents, you may qualify for a program intended to help low-income renters move from mold-infested units. To be eligible you must fit the following requirements: the household in question must be located in the city of Portland, the household income must be below 50% median family income and at least one person must have a written statement from a doctor indicating that they have a condition that may be caused or aggravated by mold. For more information visit the Community Alliance of Tenants website at http://oregoncat.org/community/alliance-of/tenants/C76.
As a tenant in the state of Oregon, it is imperative that you understand your rights and what your landlord is responsible for. In the case of mold, it is imperative that the proper testing and removal be conducted as soon as mold is suspected to be present. Knowing that your rental is a clean and habitable environment will help you to breathe easier.