The State of Washington is known as “The Evergreen State,” due to the abundant amount of evergreens and other lush plant life that grow naturally throughout the state. Washington maintains a green hue year round because of its distinct climate. Although the East portion of the state has higher relative humidity then most other states in the country, the Western side has an even greater amount of moisture. In areas like that of Seattle, the Cascades, and much of the Western side, overcast, increased precipitation, fog, and snowfall are very frequent. It is important for residents to understand how such conditions aid in the growth of mold. It is also very important for tenants to understand their rights as a renter, in being provided with a clean, habitable living space.
The Washington Health Department states that when an individual is “exposed to high levels of mold mycotoxins (toxins secreted by mold) they may suffer toxic effects, including fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritation to the lungs and eyes.” It also indicates that mold can exacerbate ailments such as asthma, allergies, and other upper respiratory issues. The health department website also provides links to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website, as well as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) site. Both the CDC and EPA state that several negative health effects associated with mold exposure do exist. This is especially true for those with compromised or weakened immune systems, such as children and the elderly. Some of the more serious effects associated with mold exposure include kidney damage, further weakening of the immune system, severe respiratory problems, brain damage, and in some cases death. This is why it is crucial that if mold is present, it should immediately be investigated and removed in a safe manner.
As per the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), a compilation of all permanent laws now in force in the State of Washington, it is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain rental units that occupy their tenants. Some of these responsibilities include fixing water leaks, and any ventilation problems that may result in perpetual moisture problems. It is also a requirement that landlords provide documentation warning tenants of “the health hazards associated with exposure to indoor mold.” This information must either be given to the tenants individually or posted in a public area. It is important that this information is disclosed to you prior to you signing your lease, as it is the obligation of the landlord to do so. Furthermore, it is required that the landlord maintain a residence that is “fit for human habitation,” and in accordance with existing health codes or ordinances established for the State of Washington. It is also the responsibility of the landlord to maintain the structural integrity of the building and that the “dwelling unit [is] in reasonably weather-tight condition.” However, there are no specific requirements of the landlord to test or remove toxic mold. It is advised that when you suspect mold is present to contact a lawyer prior to moving forward.
If you believe toxic mold may be present in your rental unit there are a few steps you can follow to attempt to have the situation remedied. First, you must document the problem you have in writing; describe the issue and provide an estimate of how much it will cost to fix it. This would include the cost to test for the mold as well as the estimate to have it properly removed from your unit. You may also indicate that if the landlord fails to remedy the situation, you will be hiring a professional of your choice to make the repairs. You must keep a photocopy of the letter for your records, and always send correspondence via certified mail to maintain proof that the landlord received it. If you don’t have your landlord’s address you can call the county tax assessor and ask for the address of the person who pays taxes on your building. In most situations, after the landlord has received the letter they have approximately 10-days to make contact and begin the repairs. However, due to the nature of the situation, like that of mold, the landlord may not feel that they are responsible for the problem and refrain from making the repairs. If this is the case, you should contact a lawyer again prior to moving forward. As per code (RCW 59.18.100) in the State of Washington, it states “If you are current in your rent and utilities, you can have the repairs done and deduct the cost from your next months’ rent.” In the case of mold, this step can only be taken if the landlord agrees to do so and allows you to deduct the costs. If your landlord refuses to allow the payment for such repairs to come out of your rent, you may need to go to court. If this is the case, be sure you have copies of all the correspondence between you and your landlord. Have a medical professional present to attest to the negative health effects of mold and anything else your lawyer advises prior to going to court. As per sections [2005 c 465 § 2; 2002 c 259 § 1; 1991 c 154 § 2; 1973 1st ex.s. c 207 § 6.] of the Revised Code of Washington, the landlord’s responsibilities to maintain habitable living conditions in the unit still exists even after you have hired an outside professional to fix a problem or have contacted a lawyer.
Encountering mold in your apartment or rental property can be an exhausting and difficult situation to resolve. This is why it is important to fully understand your rights as a tenant and the obligations of your landlord. Several states have passed specific mold legislation that deals with the proper testing and removal of toxic mold. The State of Washington, unfortunately, does not have laws that deal primarily with mold testing and removal. However, certain standards do exist which indicate the damaging health effects of mold exposure. For this reason, it is imperative that if mold is believed to be present in your rental unit that it be properly tested for and removed so as to avoid any health complications associated with exposure.
For more information about tenant rights in the State of Washington and how an inspection can help determine if you have a problem at your property, call us at 1-866-358-3838 or email us here.
- Washington State Legislature Landlord Duties Website
- The Washington State Landlord-Tenant Act Information
- HUD Tenant Rights, Laws and Protections for Washington State
- Washington State Office of the Attorney General Residential Landlord-Tenant Resources and Links
- Center for Disease Control Mold Information Website