A recent federal case, where tenants have sued a landlord for damages due to mold and pest infestation, shows just how important it is for landlords to take mold problems serious.
Florida is a humid environment and water intrusion can come from a host of sources, so keeping rental properties safe from water intrusion and excessive humidity is a critical aspect of properly managing rental property. Mold is a part of the natural environment, so there will be some types and concentration mold in the air, including in the interior of a home, but problems can occur of when mold begins to grow on the surfaces of the interior of the property.
The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) states that “[m[old may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.” See source. The EPA further states, “Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing.” Some people are more sensitive to mold spores than others, so “[i]nhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.”
Mold Growth Factors
According to the Florida Home Mold & Mildew Guide for Consumers (“Mold Guide”), mold growth requires:
available mold spores
available mold food
appropriate temperatures and
The bad news is, we have no way to eliminate mold spores from occurring in nature; mold spores can grow on virtually any surface; and mold spores like similar conditions that humans like. Combine that with a high humidity environment and mold growth can occur quickly.
Of the 4 factors that are required for mold growth, controlling the humidity level is, by far, the factor that we can control the most. So, that is the goal for the interior of the premises: keep moisture levels at level that is not conducive for mold growth.
According to Mold Guide, there are a number of things that one needs to do or not do to prevent moisture from reaching levels conducive for mold growth. They include:
Air Conditioner Operation - set your fan mode switch on AUTO, not ON position.
Air Conditioner Selection - choose a model with enhanced moisture removal if possible.
Air Conditioner Sizing - choosing the right size air condition is important.
Thermostat Set Point - set the thermostat at the highest (not coldest) comfortable temperature.
Interior Doors - keep interior doors open (except when each room has its own duct pathway).
Space Pressurization - homes in hot, humid climates should be slightly pressurized with respect to outdoors.
Ceiling Fans - use ceiling fans in the Summer months.
Measure the Relative Humidity (RH) - If your home has RH levels exceeding 70-75% for extended periods and controlling mold growth on surfaces is difficult, your home may need a dehumidification system (seek professional advice).
Vinyl Wall Covering - avoid using impermeable surfaces on interior walls
Return Air Pathways - ensure sufficient air flow pathways in the home
Bathrooms - keep the surfaces clean and dry. Use fans and vents.
Whole-House Ventilation Fans (Opened Windows) - do not use these fans when it is humid outside.
Air Conditioner Maintenance - change air filters routinely and as needed.
Exterior Water Management - keep water away from the home’s exterior, including sprinkler systems. Use gutters and keep them clean and operational.
Small Leaks - Inspect all sink and water source areas to ensure no leaks occur. Even small leaks into the home from the exterior can cause major problems.
Water Damage - properly restore water damage and use professional services to ensure proper methods are used.
Moisture Condensation - remove condensation from windows often and when they occur. Pay attention to other kinds of condensation and remove it quickly. If there is a problem causing the condensation, remedy the problem to prevent the moisture buildup.
Exhaust Fans - keep dryer and kitchen exhaust vents blowing outside and not under the house or into the attic.
Closets - leave closet doors ajar helps to prevent mold growth environment.
House Plants - do not have excessive amounts of live plants in the house, as it creates humidity in the home.
Many of these mold-prevention measures can and should be performed by tenants during their tenancy, because they are the best ones to actually do it. To require the tenant to take these measure, you must have an enforcement mechanism, namely, the lease agreement.
Your lease agreement should address the numerous do’s and do not’s that tenants should be obligated to perform during their tenancy. Otherwise, you may find that the tenant is causing major problems in the home that you have a difficult time enforcing the tenant to take the proper measures or else face eviction.
Notice the Signs
Landlords should take note of any signs of mold growth or problems during any inspection, such as:
Water stains in walls and ceilings
Standing water in water heater area
Mildew in furniture
Smelly or colored a/c filters
(See source). If after an inspection, the concern is even moderate, the landlord should consider bringing in a professional to assess the situation. Document the inspection, regardless of the result, to ensure that you have proper proof of what conditions existed and what remedies were performed, if any were necessary. Never attempt to perform mold remediation yourself and rely on professionals who know the proper protocol.
Mold Reporting Procedures
Sometimes a tenant will allege that there is a mold problem in the home (even when there is no visible signs of mold), thus putting the landlord “on notice” of a potential liability issue or lease termination potential. What should the landlord do? After all, mold assessment tests are not cheap, so if the landlord had to perform a mold assessment every time a tenant said “mold”, the landlord could face the end of his rental business. Therefore, the landlord must make provisions in the lease agreement specific to this situation.
In general, the lease agreement should address the procedure and protocol for the tenant and landlord when there is a suspicion of mold in the home but no sensible or visible evidence. For example, if there is no visible mold growing on a surface inside the home, the landlord should have a lease provision that requires the tenant to first provide the landlord with a mold report from a licensed, independent mold assessor at the tenant’s cost.
Obviously, if there is no dangerous amount or type of mold to report, the tenant will not have anything further to demand (most likely), but if the results show a dangerous amount or type of mold present, the tenant will provide the landlord with the report, and the landlord can begin the remediation process accordingly (as well as reimburse the tenant for the cost of the mold assessment). This helps to balance the obligations of the parties and ensure that landlords are not put out of business by the mere allegation of mold, while tenants are reimbursed for the expenses of the report when they have reasonable belief that there is a mold problem in the home.
The lease agreement should also provide for a manner in which the landlord may terminate the lease agreement when mold in the home is a problem. Having the proper procedure in place to handle mold situations is very important to avoiding conflicts with the tenant. Another article can be written on this topic alone, but suffice it to say, not only does the lease provision need to be worded properly, but also the landlord should take proper steps regarding an allegation of mold to gather enough evidence to justify the landlord's decision to terminate the lease agreement. Contact an attorney for legal advice any time there is a lease termination situation.
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