Real estate residential and commercial landlords, tenants, and rental agents in the USA, Canada, and worldwide should take ten steps to avoid mold problems and lawsuits in the rental of real estate properties, according to Phillip Fry, Certified Mold Inspector and author of the books Mold Legal Guide and Mold Health Guide.
Living or working in rental units that contain elevated levels of airborne mold spores and/or substantial mold growth infestation can cause very severe (and sometimes permanent) health problems to the tenants.
Landlords have ethical and legal obligations to tenants to provide an environmentally safe, habitable living space (residential rentals) or workplace (office and commercial rentals). Those obligations go unmet when a rental unit is mold-infested.
Landlords may have potential and substantial legal liability to tenants for such compensatory damages as: expenses for medical mold diagnostic and treatment procedures, loss of earnings, mold damage to tenants’ clothing and personal property, higher rent differential if the tenants need to move to a mold-safe place, moving expenses, any tenant-paid expenses (such as mold inspection, testing, and remediation of the rental unit and tenant possessions), and punitive damages (jury-awarded).
A Hayward, California, jury in 2004 awarded $4 million dollars in damages because of mold infestation and other substandard living conditions on behalf of 124 past and present tenants of an apartment building whose owner failed to do proper mold remediation and maintenance of the mold-infested apartments.
Take these ten steps for the mutual well-being of both the landlord and the tenants—
A property owner or manager should not even offer the property for rent until after a thorough mold inspection and mold testing of the entire rental building or of individual rental units (prior to rental) determines that the property is mold-safe for tenants to live or work in.
Hire a Certified Mold Inspector (USA and Canada) for an annual property mold inspection and mold testing, or at least use a do-it-yourself mold inspection checklist and mold test kits for a thorough mold examination and evaluation of the rental building.
If there has been a plumbing line break or leak, roof or siding leaks, flooding, storm damage, or other water intrusion problems, the building should be thoroughly and promptly mold inspected, tested, and remediated as part of the water damage repairs and restoration.
If mold inspection and testing uncovers visible or hidden mold problems, the property owner or manager should immediately do safe and effective mold removal and remediation. Hire a Certified Mold Remediator (USA and Canada), or follow the recommended steps for safe and effective do-it-yourself mold remediation. Re-inspect and re-test (?clearance testing?) the building after remediation.
The building owner or manager should avoid hiding or camouflaging mold problems by deceptions such as painting over mold growth; concealing mold growth behind stored items, furniture, furnishings, and decorations; and masking the distinctive smell of mold growth with air fresheners and deodorizers. The smell of mold is from the digestive gases of the mold eating the building materials.
A prospective tenant should inspect and mold test the proposed rental unit (prior to the signing of a rental lease) with a Certified Mold Inspector, or by using a do-it-yourself mold inspection checklist, his sense of smell, a good flashlight, and mold test kits to determine the mold status of the rental unit.
In doing such inspection and testing, the mold inspector (or the tenant himself) should do an all-around physical examination of the building for both visible and hidden signs of water damage and mold growth. In addition, the inspector or the tenant should mold test the air and visible mold growths in all rooms, the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, plus the outward airflow from each heating/cooling duct register.
Mold testing requires mold laboratory analysis and mold species identification of the collected mold and air samples. In building locations with previous floods or leaks, the examination should also include fiber optics inspection to look inside water-penetrated ceilings, walls, and floors for hidden mold infestations.
The landlord or rental manager should disclose in writing to all prospective tenants any previous or present building water and mold problems, and what the owner or manager has done, if anything, to correct such problems. Attach these water damage and mold disclosures to the rental lease agreement so that the tenant acknowledges receipt thereof.
In consideration of, and based upon, the landlord?s accurate and complete mold disclosure, and the tenant?s full and unrestricted opportunity to inspect and test the rental unit thoroughly and carefully prior to signing the lease, the lease agreement may include a clause that releases the landlord, rental manager, and the rental real estate agent/broker from all mold liability to the tenant.
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