Mold Health Hazards and Landlord Responsibilities

by Greg Walker on July 28, 2013

  • Sumo

Guest post on US law regarding tenant and landlord rights.

Although usually just a nuisance, the health implications of mold exposure can sometimes be severe. Some molds are toxic and can cause illness when inhaled, while others are essentially harmless. Even among harmful mold, different dangers are associated with the various types. For this reason, many renters are interested in whether their landlords have any legal responsibilities when it comes to mold in their properties.

Under the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, which was enacted in 1992, landlords are required to make certain disclosures regarding rental property that was built before 1978. Among other things, Title X of these EPA regulations state that a landlord must disclose any known lead paint hazards to the tenant before a lease is signed or renewed. Although many states have additional lead paint disclosure requirements, renters across the country are at least covered by the federal requirement.

Mold Hazard Disclosure and Remediation Legislation

In contrast to lead paint hazards, there is no federal legislation related to disclosure of, or protection from, mold in residential buildings. Despite this lack of uniform coverage nationwide, a handful of states enacted legislation that directly address mold in rental properties – such as California’s Toxic Mold Protection Act, which was enacted in 2001. These and other state-mandated guidelines offer varying levels of protection to tenants.

Some states address mold in rental properties as part of broader legislation regarding landlord and tenant rights. For example, the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act states “[T]he landlord shall disclose whether there is any visible evidence of mold in areas readily accessible within the interior of the dwelling unit.”

If there is visible evidence of mold, a tenant in Virginia has the option of terminating the tenancy. If the tenant chooses to stay despite the mold, however, the landlord “shall promptly remediate the mold condition but in no event later than five business days thereafter” before reporting there is no visible evidence of mold upon re-inspection.

Tenant’s Rights and Mold

Only some states have laws that specifically require landlords to remediate mold infestations within their rental units. At the same time, even in states such as Pennsylvania, where mold problems are not explicitly addressed as in other jurisdictions, tenants still do have certain rights.

For example, every rental unit in Pennsylvania must be “habitable”, meaning that a landlord must provide a safe living environment to the tenant in exchange for the rent payment. Depending on the severity of the infestation, mold can cause a property to be deemed “uninhabitable”.

A primary issue with mold is awareness; that is, if a landlord has no notice of the presence of mold in a rental unit, can he or she be expected to cure the problem? After a tenant moves in and becomes aware of a mold issue, it is incumbent upon the tenant to give proper notice to the landlord of the concerns. Proper notice typically requires a written letter, sent certified, return receipt requested.

If a landlord has not fixed a problem that causes a rental property to be uninhabitable with a specific period, the tenant may be able to withhold rent legally until the problem is remedied. Be sure to consult with a lawyer experienced with landlord/tenant issues before taking any action, however. For more information, there are a number of tenant advocacy organizations in communities across the county, such as the Tenant Union Representation Network (TURN) in Philadelphia.

Greg Walker
Greg Walker works with ACI-Tech, a mold remediation company serving the Philadelphia region. For more information about ACI and their services, please visit http://www.removemoldpa.com
Greg Walker
Greg Walker
Greg Walker

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