Is a Landlord Always Responsible for Mold Remediation?

Written on February 3, 2016 by , updated on September 6, 2017

Mold RemediationMold is a bit like gluten — some people are more sensitive to it than others, and those that are sensitive can be almost religious in their avoidance.

If you have a tenant with mold sensitivities who alerts you to a mold problem, the appropriate response may not be obvious.

You may think that it’s your responsibility to clean it up, but many times, it’s not. It depends on the severity and cause of the problem.

On one hand, it’s impractical to mount an expensive remediation project for a problem that may exist more in imagination than reality. On the other hand, failure to respond to a genuinely hazardous condition could result in significant discomfort for a sensitive individual, and it could also result in a lawsuit.

Mold is a controversial health issue. Savvy landlords take it seriously, but they don’t overreact.

Governing Laws on Mold Remediation

As of January 2016, there was no federal law setting permissible limits or tolerance standards on mold in residential building, and only six states — California, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Texas — had passed laws regulating mold levels in indoor environments. In Virginia, the law expressly requires the landlord to:

…maintain the premises in such a condition as to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold, and to promptly respond to any notices from a tenant as provided in subdivision.

While the other 50 states don’t specifically legislate mold, they do require the landlord to disclose potentially hazardous conditions at the time of rental, and they also require landlords to correct conditions that make a dwelling uninhabitable. Toxic mold is arguably one of those conditions.

Some municipalities have laws that clearly define the landlord’s responsibilities.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there may be as many as 300,000 varieties of mold on our planet, and many are benign. Some, such as Penicillium, are even beneficial.

Because they are virtually everywhere, however, it may be impossible to take a breath without inhaling some type of mold spore, and most people do so without consequence. Sensitive individuals, however, can experience respiratory irritation, aggravated asthma symptoms, headaches and other ailments, especially when certain strains are present. The two most problematic are:

  • Stachybotrys chartarum — Otherwise known as toxic black mold, this strain produces a mycotoxin which is responsible for the distress it causes. It grows in moist dark environments, such as in basements, damp framing and water-damaged drywall. It gets its name from its ponderously sinister color and heavy texture, both of which are warnings that it’s nothing to trifle with.
  • Aspergillus — Aspergillus is a family of molds, and only some of them produce mycotoxins. Probably more common than Stachybotrus, it grows in most of the same places. Lacking the threatening appearance or black mold, it may be even more dangerous, because it’s lighter and more easily airborne.

There is no guarantee that either of these species are growing in any particular mold colony, but testing for them would require detailed inspection with a microscope and is usually impractical. Consequently, any mold colony growing in a dark, wet place in a dwelling unit is suspect, and it’s difficult to claim that toxic strains are absent and that a particular colony is harmless.

Who Should Clean it Up?

It’s clear that any mold that results from a plumbing or structural leak should be addressed by the landlord as part of the repair. But should a landlord feel compelled to respond to a mold problem caused by unsanitary domestic habits? Probably not.

Landlords aren’t required to provide cleaning services, and to insist on doing so would constitute an invasion of privacy. For example, it would be reasonable to expect a tenant to clean up a mold colony growing in a corner in which he or she habitually throws damp towels.

Between these two extremes, however, are many gray areas. For example, mold often grows inside drains that habitually clog. A clogged drain is usually caused by what goes in the drain, not the drain itself. Or consider that mold may grow in a poorly ventilated crawl space, but the lack of ventilation may be due to piles of stored belongings.

Here are some industry standards on the responsibility of mold remediation, but please know that each county, or Judge, might view this differently.

SituationResponsibilityWhy
Mold on the ceiling due to leaky roofLandlordThe landlord is responsible for roof leaks.
Mold seaping through basement wallsLandlordThe landlord is responsible for cracks in the foundation.
Mold caused by leaky pipeLandlordLeaky pipes are usually always the landlord's responsibility.
Any mold present at move-inLandlordLandlord must provide a clean, safe unit
Surface mold on furnitureTenantThe tenant must ensure the house is being ventilated regularly.
Mold on shower tiles or bathtubTenantTenant is responsible for regular cleanings, which will prevent this.
Mold on window sillsTenantThis is caused by condensation and lack of ventilation.
Mold on drywall where wet towels are typically keptTenantThe wet towel is the cause.

The ideal landlord/tenant relationship includes good communication and a commitment to work together to maintain quality of life.

In the end, that shared commitment is the key to health and wellbeing for everyone.

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38 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Lauren Mosher

    Hi Chris,

    I live in Massachusetts and have a unique case that I cannot find information on. There has been significant mold growth on my clothings, shoes and bags in my rental unit. A professional came in and tested the air, the humidity was at 78%, the meter reading came back that the sheet rock was moist and there was water in the HVAC system. I would like the cleaning and replacement costs to be covered by the building, but they are claiming negligence when it is evident there is a problem with the HVAC system. What is the best way to proceed?

    Thank you,

    Lauren

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lauren

      If the landlord disagrees with your judgement, then I suggest you get a legal opinion from an attorney. If the lawyer agrees with you, then perhaps he/she will write a demand letter for you and send it to the landlord.

  • Aaron J Harvey

    I’m in Va and live in a house w/4 other guys, we each have our own lease. The owners live out of state and are rarely in town. Our bathroom does not have a ventilation or fan system at all, and the entire ceiling is covered in dots of mold now. Most of it is small patterns but there are probably 5 or 6 spots the size of Half Dollar coins that are definitely a dark black color. I have mentioned it to the owners but they simply said they’d look into it (they also just had to fix the drywall ceiling in my room and the living room because the living room one fell and mine was cracking really bad and going to fall after they ignored messages about the cracks). What are my options here? I’ve noticed I’ve been getting sick more frequently lately.

  • Russ

    Our landlord had bath fitters come in and install a tub liner before me and my fiancee moved in. At some point the sealant around the drain must have came apart because there is a TON of water just sitting in the tub under the liner. When you step on it, it is like a waterbed. I have terrible allergies and asthma and ive been quite sick for awhile and after many visits to the doctor I cant figure out why. Then this tub thing happens and I thought maybe mold was the issue. We had the place tested and the swab came back positive for mold in the walls of the unit. High levels of Eurotium Species which could explain my symptoms. If our landlord refuses to fix the issue, can we break the lease and leave? Is he forced to fix this? Options??

  • Melinda Johnson

    I have mold in my closet at times my clothes are damp I have one child that had heart problems and one that had mixed connective tissue disorder w/ lung problems. I’ve wiped my kitchen cabinets down several time with bleach a d black mold keeps coming back I’m on section 8 I have told my landlord his response was thanks for giving him the heads up.i can’t afford to have them come out and test for mold .so what should I do

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