South Carolina is a state known for its history, which dates back well before the Revolutionary War. Today one of its largest cities, Charleston, is considered a diverse cultural center. Many flock to this region for its beautiful, sandy beaches and costal islands. South Carolina is known as the “Swamp State” due to its marshy areas where rice is able to grow, but many people are still unaware of what else may be growing in their own home. Mold, considered to be an air contaminant, needs only moisture to flourish, so the state of South Carolina, with its humid conditions, is the perfect breeding ground for toxic mold. This information is especially important for those that are planning on renting or currently renting in this state. Understanding your rights as a tenant in this state will help you to avoid exposure to mold in your rental.
First and foremost, knowing just how dangerous mold can be to your health will illuminate the importance of limiting exposure to mold in your indoor environment. Mold is considered a biological contaminant that can cause a plethora of symptoms depending on the individual, the species of mold, and the level to which one is exposed. The milder reactions include symptoms similar to allergies, such as nasal congestion, itchy, watery eyes, cough, and throat irritation. Some may also suffer flu-like symptoms, skin sensitivity, rash, or nose bleeds. For those exposed to the most dangerous species of mold, Stachybotrys chartarum, there are more dire consequences. Some of the more severe reactions to toxic mold exposure include damage to the kidneys, immune system, nervous system, brain damage, and even death.
The reason for these terrible health effects is that molds such as Stachybotrys release mycotoxins, which affect just about any exposed individual. There are several groups of people that are highly susceptible to damaging health effects of toxic mold exposure. This group includes the immune compromised, elderly individuals, and children. Not only can mold damage your health, it can also damage your home’s structural integrity. Even in a property that you are renting, it is important to make sure the unit is habitable for yourself and your family. Having the proper mold inspection, testing, and remediation will help you to maintain a healthy indoor environment.
As mentioned above, South Carolina’s weather, closeness to the coast, and prevalence of marshes allows for the conditions necessary for mold growth. If you plan to rent in this state it is especially important that that you determine what your landlord is obligated to provide you with. Read your lease agreement very closely and make sure to ask your future landlord whether they will take care of mold-related problems. Ask if the property suffered any past water damage and how the problem was remedied. All that is necessary for mold to grow is water, so past water damage that was not properly taken care of is an indication of existing mold growth. Having a precautionary mold inspection and testing done prior to the signing of the lease can help you to determine whether mold is present on the property. The cost of the inspection may have to come out your pocket; however, it will indicate the quality of your indoor air. This could help you to avoid a more costly problem in the future.
Hurricane Irene’s path of destruction left the South Carolina coastal region with numerous floods. Nearly 1,100 homes were destroyed as a result of the hurricane and several thousand more were left to deal with the aftermath. In its entirety Hurricane Irene caused approximately $71 million in property damage throughout the Eastern coastline. One victim of the storm, Jared Waters, had to sift through his waterlogged possessions while also trying to find a place to live. His rental had been completely submerged in water during the storm, and this included his basement. Although his landlord said the problem would be fixed, Waters is worried that his crawlspace will become a breeding ground for mold. He was quoted as saying, “I’ve done flood cleanup before and I know how fast that stuff grows. You can’t live in a house with mold, especially with the standing water under the house.” In such a situation it is imperative that proper water cleanup be done by a professional water damage restoration company. Even if you are renting like Mr. Waters, you still need to make sure your landlord is using a reputable company to do the job. You can thus ensure it is done properly the first time to avoid extensive mold growth in the future.
For those already renting in South Carolina, here are a few steps you can follow if you suspect or know that mold is present in your unit. Currently no laws exist in this state that apply specifically to mold growth on a rental property. However, like many states South Carolina’s Code of Laws does require that the landlord maintain the premises in a habitable condition for human occupancy. As per section 27-40-440 of the South Carolina Code of Laws the landlord must abide by building and housing codes that deal with the health and safety of the tenant. Contact your local housing authority to determine if the landlord is in violation of any existing housing codes. In the same section of the South Carolina Code of Laws, the landlord is also required to “make all repairs and do whatever is reasonably necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.”
Due to the toxicity of mold and the damaging health effects that accompany exposure, it could be argued that a home infested with mold is uninhabitable. Contacting an attorney is also advised in this particular situation, as they may have experience with mold litigation as it applies to landlords and tenants. It is also important to document all the problems you have observed on the property, for example mold growth, leaky pipes, lack of ventilation, and so on. Take pictures and date them. Then write a letter to the landlord detailing the problems you have with the unit, what you feel needs to be done, and the time frame in which you feel it should be completed. Make sure to send the letter via certified mail so that you have a receipt of when the landlord received it.
Now although the landlord can decline to fix a mold issue in the unit, this does not relieve him/her from fixing other problems on the property. For example if there is a leaky pipe or ventilation issue on the property it is still the obligation of the landlord the fix the problem in a timely fashion. After the letter describing the problem(s) has been sent, the landlord has approximately 14-30 days before they are required to make contact and schedule the repair. In some cases you may be able to withhold rent until the problem is fixed, deduct the cost of the repairs from the next month’s rent, or even break the lease. Make sure to contact a lawyer to decide what your next course of action should be in this particular case.
Your indoor environment is incredibly important to your overall health, especially since most individuals spend such a large portion of time inside. As a tenant in the state of South Carolina, you should understand fully your rights and what you can do to ensure the safety of your home. In the case of mold infestations it is important that the proper inspection, testing, and remediation be done to maintain a safe living space. You have the right to a habitable home free of mold and other contaminants.