Help! My tenant says there's mold in the unit!

Posted By: BPOA Master Rental Housing Topics,

 Dealing with Mold Issues: A Comprehensive Guide for Rental Housing Providers

Mold issues in rental units can be a common concern, often raising questions about responsibility and prompt action. As a landlord, it's essential to navigate these situations efficiently and address tenant concerns promptly. In this guide, we'll break down the complexities of mold problems and provide a step-by-step approach to handling them effectively.

Understanding Mold:
Mold is a common fungus that thrives in moist or damp environments. Contrary to popular belief, not all molds are harmful, and it's crucial to dispel misconceptions about the severity of mold types. When a tenant reports mold, it's essential to respond promptly and conduct a thorough investigation to identify the source and type of mold. 

Is it Mildew?                                                                                                                                                                                    Mildew is a fungus that superficially grows on wet surfaces in areas with very high humidity and can be easily scrubbed away. It usually grows in small dot patterns and doesn't root deeply into the surface it's growing on. Downy mildew starts as yellow spots, then changes to brown. Powdery mildew is whitish or greyish in color, then slowly turns yellowish-brown, then black. If the smell is reminiscent of wet, forgotten laundry or a damp basement, you're likely smelling mildew. 

Immediate Action:

Upon receiving a mold complaint, landlords should take immediate action. Timely responses can prevent tenants from seeking outside experts prematurely. Conduct a thorough inspection to determine the extent of the issue and gather information about the mold's location, smell, and visibility.

Detective Work:
Investigate the potential causes of mold growth, focusing on common factors like improper ventilation and structural issues. Ask questions such as whether there's a musty smell, visible mold or dampness, and the specific locations where mold is present. This detective work helps pinpoint the root cause.

Once the cause has been determined, execute repairs or instruct tenants on how to reduce the factors contributing to mold colonization. 

Communication:                                                                                                                                                                       Never ignore a mold claim before you've done your due diligence. From receiving the initial complaint to reporting the findings of your investigation and relaying information about repairs, communication is key.  

Common Causes of Mold Growth:
1. **Improper Ventilation:**
   - Encourage tenants to use fans or open windows for sufficient ventilation.
   - Address mold-prone areas like bathrooms by promoting proper ventilation practices.

2. **Condensation:**
   - Monitor windows, especially aluminum framed ones, to prevent condensation-related mold growth.
   - Educate tenants about the connection between indoor and outdoor temperatures affecting condensation.

Insufficient insulation of windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors contributes to increased condensation on cold surfaces. 

3. **Lack of Ventilation in Living Spaces:**
   - Emphasize the importance of ventilation in closets, rarely opened rooms, and spaces lacking daylight.
   - Address issues related to personal effects, house plants, and excessive moisture output from occupants.

4. **Increased Moisture Contribution:**
   - Manage moisture levels by addressing factors such as personal effects against exterior walls and excessive use of appliances that produce moisture. 

   - Residents who run dehumidifiers/diffusers, dry laundry indoors, cook, and/or shower/bathe without exhaust fans.                                           

 - Stress the significance of using fans and having regular cleaning routines to prevent mold breeding grounds.

Building Maintenance Related Issues:
1. **Water Intrusion:**
   - Identify and fix sources of water intrusion, such as leaking roofs and seepage from clogged gutters or downspouts, pipes, or appliances.
   - Look for signs like wet patches on ceilings, walls, and beneath windows, signaling potential water-related problems.

2. **Moisture Intrusion:**
   - Regularly check and maintain seals around windows and doors to prevent moisture intrusion.                             - Check your gutter downspouts to ensure water is redirected away from the foundation. 
   - Consider additional measures like installing exhaust fans in humid areas, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

3. **A Problem in Another Unit:**
   - Investigate potential issues in neighboring units that could contribute to water intrusion.
   - Collaborate with tenants and professionals to identify and fix problems originating from other units.

Dealing with Tenant Claims:
When tenants claim high levels of mold or threaten legal action, landlords must act swiftly. Respond promptly to tenant notifications, investigate the source of the problem, and take necessary action to eradicate mold. Even if not responsible, clean up the mold promptly and document guidance to prevent future occurrences.

Berkeley Code Enforcement:
While tenants have the right to call for inspections, landlords can mitigate the need for city inspections by being responsive to tenant concerns and addressing mold issues promptly. The goal is to resolve the problem before it escalates to legal actions or city involvement.

Handling mold issues as a landlord requires proactive measures, prompt responses, and effective communication with tenants. By understanding common causes of mold growth and taking immediate action, landlords can maintain a healthy living environment for tenants. You may want to draw your tenant's attention to the Mold Disclosure (required in all California leases), and for for additional guidance on mold prevention and cleanup, refer to the CDPH booklet, "Mold or Moisture in My Home: What Do I Do?"