Virginians who rent their apartments and houses need to be aware of their tenant’s rights concerning mold and mildew contaminations. Moldy homes can be disastrous to the health of their occupants, so detecting and removing mold is of the utmost importance. Even though it may seem as though mold and other home issues is the responsibility of you, the tenant, it is commonly the obligation of the landlord to fix leaks, repair faulty heating and air conditioning systems, and repair other building defects. It can then be concluded that they are also responsible for the removal of mold that grows as a result of unrepaired damages. Before you take on the burden of mold removal, learn your national and state-level renter’s rights.
Increasing numbers of Virginians have to figure out the answers to tough questions about their rights as tenants. According to the Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech, home ownership rates in Virginia have fallen in each of the last three decades for people under 45 years of age. This follows a broad national trend away from home ownership for young people. More and more Virginians, even those in their 30s and 40s, are renting houses and apartments rather than buying homes. Renting a house or apartment can come with its share of concerns. For instance, many Virginians may wonder what to do when they suspect that mold is in their apartment or home. Is it dangerous? Will the landlord or property manager clean it up? Where does the mold come from? Can I break a lease and leave my apartment if the mold causes health problems? First, let’s go over some of the basics about mold.
Mold is a kind of fungus that is abundant in nature. Its main purpose in life is decomposing organic material, including things like wood, garden mulch and leaves, and food. Mold needs three things to grow: a source of organic material (which can be as small as dust particles), moisture, and a little bit of time. This makes your home a prime target for mold growth, since houses are full of organic material and can sometimes contain leaks or areas of high humidity. Virginia residents should be especially mindful of mold, since the state experiences humid summers, rainy and snowy winters, and much of its coastal territory consists of swampland.
There are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of molds, but only a handful of them release harmful mycotoxin spores. The spores are tiny floating particles that help mold spread to other host sites. When the spores get into the air, they can be inhaled into your lungs, causing a wide array of health problems. Even normally healthy people can experience allergy and flu-like symptoms: sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, throat irritation, drowsiness, headaches, and fever. They can also trigger asthma attacks. The most susceptible people are those who are immune-deficient or have respiratory illnesses, the elderly, and children. “Black mold,” a toxigenic mold known as Stachybotrys, has been linked to bleeding in the lungs and other long-term respiratory ailments. The important thing for renters to remember is that a mold infestation in your place of residence is considered a potential health hazard.
In every state except for Colorado and Arkansas, renters have the right to a safe and habitable living environment. Tenants have the right to get repairs performed by their landlords within a reasonable time after notification. These two rules are the basis for most mold-related tenant-landlord interactions. Since most of the time mold is the result of water intrusion, landlords are responsible for repairing any leaks in the property and that subsequent mold growth does not become present. In some circumstances, when the landlord has not responded to repair requests, the tenant can hire mold testing and cleaning professionals to remediate the mold and then deduct the cost of the mold remediation from their rent. Additionally, it’s important to know that before you rent an apartment, the landlord must disclose any information about the property that may be a factor in deterring you from renting. If you specifically ask about mold infestations, the landlord cannot give you misleading information. Tenants have the right to break a lease or rental agreement when their landlord fails to make proper repairs within a reasonable time.
Many states have not yet adopted legislation to regulate the proper tenant-landlord responsibilities pertaining specifically to mold, relying instead on the basic tenant’s rights with proper repair and maintenance. However, the State of Virginia specifically mentions mold in the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act of 2011. According to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act of 2011, landlords are required to disclose any visible mold in the residence to the potential renter before the renter signs a lease. If the renter decides to go ahead with renting the property, the landlord must see to the proper remediation of the mold within five business days. Also, if a tenant notifies the landlord of mold growth in the property and remediation is required, the landlord must provide the tenant with housing during any temporary relocation necessary during the procedure. This means that the landlord must either provide another dwelling unit or see to the cost of hotel arrangements while the property is being remediated. The tenant must pay his or her regular rent during this time, and cannot break a lease specifically because of their temporary relocation.
Beyond the two above stipulations (regarding disclosure of mold and replacement housing in case of mold removal), the State of Virginia maintains basic repair rights for tenants. The Virginia Tenant Act of 2011 states that the landlord must “maintain the premises in such a condition as to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold, and to promptly respond to any notices from a tenant.” As a tenant, you need to notify—in writing and preferably by certified mail—your landlord of any needed repairs. Repairs have to be made within a reasonable time after the notification, usually 30 days, unless it is an emergency situation. Tenants are responsible for any damage they themselves cause, as would be the case for improperly ventilating your bathroom. Also, if your own personal property causes a mold problem, such as leaking from a fish tank, you can be held responsible. For instance, you would be at fault for the repair if you drill a hole in your roof to install a 17th century chandelier which allows water to leak in, causing mold to grow. Of course the common cliché for moldy chandeliers applies: If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.
Regardless of whether you or your landlord caused the problem, you should always make sure a professional indoor air quality (IAQ) technician tests for the presence of toxic molds, such as Stachybotrys. Mold removal should be performed by a certified specialist as well, because improper cleaning procedures can cause the mold spores to spread. Don’t take chances with the health of your family. Make repair requests to your landlord the moment you notice any leaks, and get the proper professional help with mold cleanup if you notice any mold growing inside your residence.