How To Manage Mold In A Rental

What do you do when your tenant calls and believes they have discovered “mold” growing on the wall ? What if the tenant has young children who have allergies, but the children are not acting like there was an allergic reaction to anything unusual?  Alarms should go off in a rental owner's head. Mold in a rental is a problem that needs to be immediately addressed.  Questions like what is causing the mold and how severe is the mold will first come to mind.  The landlord also needs to deal any possible health issues caused by the mold.

Mold in a rental is to be taken seriously.  Ignoring the tenant's report of a mold issue is asking for trouble.    Mold can cause expensive property damage, lost rent, and lawsuits.  There are many symptoms that a tenant can  claim started with mold such as rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, cognitive losses, hemorrhaging, and asthma.  Why would any rental owner want to face a lawsuit to argue whether a tenant's health problems started with "toxic mold" in their rental?

Managing Mold In A Rental

Landlords and property managers can do a lot to avoid and manage mold should it appear.   One of the important things is to respond quickly when a tenant advises you they have found mold. If a tenant is claiming they are also experiencing health issues, it may be appropriate to consider offering them temporary housing or even a release from their lease.   Ultimately, letting a tenant move out may be the cheapest alternative and allow any needed mold remediation to more easily take place.  This decision is going to be based in just how serious is the mold issue.   Depending on the seriousness of the situation, any offer of temporary housing or a release from their lease should be communicated in writing.  The simple reality is that  most mold is not harmful to your health.  The problem is it takes an expert, and often testing,  to know if a mold is dangerous or just an unsightly problem.   It is not worth the cost and headaches to argue with your tenant as to what type of mold is in the rental and if it could cause any health issues.

When mold is suspected, the following action steps should be taken.

mold in a rentalIdentify the source of the moisture

Of course, ideally a rental owner and tenant will together always try to prevent the conditions that lead to the growth of mold.  In identifying the source of the mold it is possible that a tenant's lifestyle habits could be contributing to the problem.  Most often though, the cause of the mold has more to do with the structural parts of the rental and are clearly the owner's responsibility.

The rental owner or their property manager should Immediately inspect the rental when advised of any suspected mold.   Mold often grows on water-soaked materials, such as wall paneling, paint, fabric, ceiling tiles,  or cardboard boxes. Humidity sets up prime growing conditions for mold.  High humidity conditions are prime growing environments for mold.  Date-stamped photos are important to document the extent of the mold.  In the inspection phase, it may not be clear exactly what is causing the mold growth but most of the time potential sources of moisture can certainly be identified.

Correct the issue

For smaller areas of mold, the rental owner or property manager can take several actions to clean up the mold.  The area affected by the mold can begin to be treated by ventilating or using a dehumidifier to dry out the air.  Seeking any standing water, cleaning it up and stopping the source, while using cleaning solutions that discourage mold growth are all potential plans of attack to remedy the problem.  Cleaning mold is best done using gloves and a mask to avoid breathing in the disturbed mold.  It may also be well advised, in an occupied property,  to use plastic sheeting and close off the area and seal all materials and debris in plastic bags.

Some of the more common household mold issues are caused by lack of ventilation.  These issues can often be solved with the addition of exhaust fans, permanent dehumidifiers, or window replacement to reduce the infiltration of humid outside air.

Have a certified mold-remediation company inspect and then handle severe mold in a rental

Most of the time, the steps above are all that is needed to solve the issue of mold in a rental.  Unfortunately, some cases of mold are just too serious for simple cleanup and repair methods.  In these cases a professional remediation company needs to be consulted.  It is likely that the tenant will need to be provided alternative housing or released from their lease if professionals are needed.  Professional remediation is not always just because there is a fear the mold is toxic.  The clean up can just be too substantial and it calls for faster cleanup and repair of damaged areas.  The type of mold is not the crucial issue in these cases.  The issue is stopping the growth of mold and eliminating it from the property.  The worst examples of mold I have seen, where professionals have been needed, usually involve vacant homes where pipes freeze and then burst.  Or a serious roof leak is not found until massive damages have been caused.  Most tenants will gladly inform a landlord of any mold they see on a timely basis so these more extreme examples do not usually occur in an occupied home.

Properly testing for mold is also extremely costly and not a do-it-yourself project.  A basic testing can easily cost $1000.   In practice, the need to know the type of mold seems to be more of an issue in a purchase-sale negotiation where the buyer is going to use the information to negotiate a price reduction.    Solving water penetration sources and having the clean up occur quickly is more important than knowing that the mold is cladosporium or stachybotrys chartarum.  

If professionals are hired, you want a certificate of remediation at the completion of the clean-up.  Hold on to this document in case the mold re-appears or a future occupant claims possible health issues.

Keep Your Tenants Informed

It is very important to keep your tenant informed about the course of action to be followed.   Most tenants do not want to relocate but they will be worried.   So as to relieve their worry,  or set them up for a possible relocation, make a strong effort to communicate.   Providing a tenant with options that include release from their lease will lower the risk of future claims against the owner.
Over the years, the appearance of mold has caused an increasing amount of alarm.  Often, the problem can be resolved with a few simple measures and a cleaning.  The serious cases of mold that people fear, may be the result of an ignored long-term issue.  As a rental owner it is important that you have a representative, and the cooperation of your tenants, to provide notice whenever they see signs of mold.  Mold does not have to be a problem that sets off sirens.  If your tenant though is alarmed, offer them options and document that you placed the tenant's health as the priority.

As it should be every day you have a tenant in your rental.

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