It’s one of the most frequent complaints amongCaliforniatenants, and for a while there was little they could do about potentially hazardous mold in their units.  Mold is hazardous and has potential for creating numerous health issues. Exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, or wheezing.  Some people with serious allergies to molds may have more severe reactions.

As of January 1, 2016, mold is officially a condition underCalifornialaw that makes a home substandard (Cal. Health & Safety Code §17920.3).  The owner of a rental property cited as by a local (city or county) code inspector as a substandard dwelling is required to repair that condition immediately.  This means tenants can report mold problems to the city, which can demand repairs and fines for landlords who don’t comply. California tenants, who believe they have been harmed by the presence of high concentrations of mold in their apartment, can also try to recover damages from their landlord in court to compensate them for their loss.

Cities Across California Are Combatting Landlords for Negligence Regarding Mold

At an apartment building in Santa Rosa, California, the premises had such a high level of mold (as well as a rat infestation) that the city ordered several reportedly sickened tenants to vacate their homes.  Although the landlord gave the tenants $2,000 for relocation, the tenants are suing the landlord for damages, according to a press report.

InSan Francisco, mold is a “public health nuisance”, and means tenants have the right to sue their landlords for violating city nuisance laws if they fail to remove any “visible or otherwise demonstrable mold” located anywhere “in the interiors of any buildings.” (San Francisco Health Code § 581(a)(6).)

InSan Diego, code enforcement officers are already addressing mold complaints under the new law, according to the city, adding more enforcement officers focused on substandard housing.

However, in court cases there is substantial disagreement on who was responsible for causing and perpetuating the mold issue.  Was it negligence of the landlord for existing issues or caused by tenants who did not maintain their premises in clean and dry condition.

Getting a jump on issues through tenant communication and proper tenant disclosure can give you a leg up on potential tenant claims.  Landlords can help reduce their liability by doing the following:

  • Providing the tenants with mold disclosures and informing them of preventative measures.
  • Requiring tenants to contact the landlord if they notice any water leaks, water damage, or mold issues in the premises.

California law requires landlords to provide tenants with a written disclosure, prior to signing a rental agreement, when they know, or have reason to know, that mold exceeds permissible exposure limits or poses a health threat.  Landlords must also distribute a consumer handbook, developed by the State Department of Health Services, describing the potential health risks from mold. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § § 26147, 26148)

Many lease agreements and landlord disclosures already specify tenant responsibilities in maintaining their premises.  Landlords should make sure that these provisions specify that the tenants have to keep the premises in dry and clean condition, and provide tenants on mold preemptive measures.  They should also include provisions requiring tenants to immediately contact the landlord on water leaks or other conditions that may cause mold growth.  Keeping the tenants informed and staying on top of preventative maintenance will mitigate future tenant grievances and possible litigation.

Erwin Pineda is the founder RentDisclosures.com.  For more information, call (626) 360-1699.