Smell mold but not see anything

30 Replies

The floor guy came to install new floors. When he tore out the old carpet, he told the tenant that he smelled mold. There are no black spots or wet spots, and no leaks at all. The tenant has a husband and 2 young kids. They therefore wanted to stay in the hotel because of that. I put them in the hotel $125 per night for 2 nights. The floor should be complete tomorrow. I called the mold company to check it out Monday as I can't get anyone to come out today. During the checking time and if the company find some mold, what can I do? I can't afford the hotel for too long. I offered them out, but they don't want to. Actually, I regreted to rent to them right after we signed the lease. I've have too many headaches from them already. I read about "to get those tenants out at all costs". But how can I do it? Please help me!

@Sherry Chen  If the home tests positive for mold, you would need to have a mitigation company resolve it.  If they smelled it as they were pulling the floors up, and you don't see anything, could it be coming from the crawl space? Honestly, there is mold everywhere, and in the air we breathe.  It's likely not an issue if you are not seeing anything.  Can you smell anything unusual?

More importantly, I would NEVER use this floor guy again, and I would give him a good chewing out for even mentioning the "M" word around my tenants.  I make it clear to all my contractors that they are not to talk about any issues directly with the tenants.  If they notice something, come to me first, and I'll deal with it.  I do not want them creating hysteria in my tenants as your contractor did in this case.

Perhaps you can tell them the recent floor work has revealed the need for some additional repairs of which will take an unreasonable amount of time. Thus you have no choice but to give them back their deposit and they can find another place. But first call your floor guy and tell him he needs to respect his business relationship with you and not mention things to the tenants that may not be true. Personally, I would not hire him again and probably would tell him he his finished, pay him for what he has done and bring someone else in to finish.

Thank you so much for responding! Of course I'll never use this guy again. I called 2 mold companies. One will do the free inspection and the other will charge $150. I don't why but feel better to use the charging one. What do you think? What shall I do with the tenants now? I can't afford the hotel staying for all the time until the mold thing is fixed. Guess the company will find some mold anyway as it is in almost every house. Any ideas? 

I'm more than happy to give back their deposit. If I tell them that I have no choice but let them go, do I have to pay for their stay somewhere else when they look for a place? And for how long? They said they wanted a free month stay in the house at one point, then said can't stay because it's dangerous. They also threatened to sue.

I don't even like to the say the "M" word.  As @Dawn Brenengen  pointed out, iterations of mold is all over the place and my understanding is that very few of the cultures are actually detrimental to typical humans.  The real challenge becomes when you have either a super sensitive tenant to any traces...or a super psychologically sensitive tenant that is quick to flex the tenants rights and demand this and that.  Owning a management company we have to confront this issue pretty frequently.  I like to use the reasonableness test in these types of situations.  If a tenant reports a smell, that triggers an observation.  If you see "M" or mildew, it could be treated on the surface with bleach or other mitigating solvents.  If you don't see it or even smell it yourself then you have a decision to make.  If cleaning the area doesn't satisfy the tenant then another alternative is the mold remediation company.  Of course that call is like poking the hive that has now become a whole cottage industry with test-in's, abatement, removal, construction, test-out' can be ridiculously expensive.  The worst is when you receive the initial $150 test that they offer and it is inconclusive but there are particulates that are of such characteristics that "M" cannot be ruled out.  Well thanks for nothing.  Now you have to upgrade to the more thorough test and of course they are more likely to find traces of "M" in any of the wet/plumbed areas of the unit.  Apologies for the venting...I digress.

The real issue in my opinion is making sure you track down the source.  Water intrusion or a plumbing leak can be a latent killer that can lead to major wall and sub-flooring repairs if not identified soon enough.  If you do see some signs of "M" or mildew it is at a minimum a sign of trapped moisture.  The most common examples we all see is the poorly ventilated bathroom without a fan or a window...combined with long steamy showers.

@Sherry Chen  I would definitely go with the company who charges. The free company makes their money doing remediation, which gives them an incentive to find mold each time. I would look for a company that only does independent testing, not remediation. 

@Franklin S.  is correct. Very little mold is actually toxic to most people, but there has been enough sensationalization of the topic that the public now thinks every mildewy shower is going to kill them. 

@Sherry Chen do the test, prove their is no toxic mold present, show it to the tenants, you know they'll disagree, then offer to let them out of the lease at no penalty. Best to cut your losses if your regretting signing them in the first place. Good luck.

@Sherry Chen  Could be the mold was in the carpet and pad that is now in the dumpster and there is no significant mold anywhere else in the unit. Be aware that some people have a better sense of smell than others.... I can detect aromas much better than my husband. 

Do you have a local landlord buddy that can help you check it out, in addition to the mold specialists? We work with a professional home inspector and I would call him before I called in mold specialists, as he would not have a vested interest and would also know what to look for. 

Also, did you give your tenants information about mold and moisture in the home as required by Federal law? Check out the EPA booklet...."A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home"... we give it to our tenants when they move-in. Information from a reliable source can quell fears and teach tenants how to take care of their home in such a way to prevent mold from taking root.

I agree with the others that the flooring guy was out-of-line by speaking directly with the tenants. I would take it up with his boss too if it turns out he was wrong about the presence of mold and it cost you all this extra expense. Then again, if you uncover a moisture problem or mold problem before it gets worse, then it will be a good thing that this came to light.

Good luck and let us know the outcome!  Also please compete your BP profile and add a photo; it will help with your networking and participation on BP. :-)

@Sherry Chen  Were you present when the floor guy said there was mold? I couldn't tell from your post and it sounds like you heard this from your tenant who already is a trouble maker. Maybe the floor guy didn't say anything and the tenant is using it as an excuse.

Like others have said, I wouldn't go straight to a mold remediation company. Have a good contractor, a fellow landlord/investor with experience, or a home inspector take a look first. Mold needs a source of water to thrive so you need to find the leak, fix it, dry out or cut out any related materials, and make the repairs. Then, if you think it's necessary, have an independent mold test from someone who just does the testing and not the remediation. If there's no water source, I'd be suspicious that there's any mold at all.

A tenant of mine did a mold test on their own, broke the lease when it came back positive, and moved out. There were a couple of leaks that needed to be fixed, which were the sources of the mold. I had a mold remediation company come out and they charged a few thousand bucks to do their containment, which was really a fancy way of drying everything out. 

The mold inspector (different guy) told me that we should do the test immediately after the remediation was completed. He said that there's mold everywhere, inside and outside of your house. He tests the outside mold concentration and then the concentration of the mold inside of the house. If those numbers are close, then you'll be clear. If the numbers inside are greater than outside, then you'll test positive for mold. If you're in a moist climate like close to the beach like I was, you'll most likely get a positive result. Yes, feels like a scam indeed.

If I had to do it over again, I would have skipped the mold remediation part. I would have had a plumber find and fix the leak. Someone else replace the drywall and flooring. I would just have the guy test that there was no mold and be done with it.

It sounds like your tenant may be an even bigger problem, though. Let them know that you'd be happy to let them out of their lease and give them back their deposit. Unfortunately, they can't stay there because you need to fix the problem. Offer to give them some moving money since it's less expensive than spending a few thousand on remediation. 

our company does mold remedation work and most house have some form of mold , there are different level of mold in most house and some harmful and some are not so just that you have mold does not mean it is harmful. Ex it can be just dust from work that is not harmful but will still test for mold but is ok by the EPA. Second thing any one that works on your property does not say anything to a renters at all coraspondance  question and answers come from you and if they do they will not get paid and you will not use them has to told up front to all people you use so that never happens again. Get a paid test from a mold test company not a remedation company, from what you are saying with no visible signs if you do have it may be small get it treated and cleared give them a copy of the report and your done. Make sure you get them to sign the report in case it come up again and you keep it in the file to show the property was cleared by company x. I would put them in a extended stay no a hotel or a cyber rental to cut that bill in half  for the week into you can get this resolved a hotel is a high blank check you should be able to get the test back in 48 hr and treated the same day and they move back in.You should be able to to get a test form 125-300 and the work if its not bad a couple hundred bucks and fix what ever water they may be coming in by you are a good handyman.You can do it your self but get a company to do it if there ever a problem the liability  is off you and on them and will be worth the 800 to 1200 you gave them for the repairs.

I'm so grateful for all of your inputs. They will check out from the hotel tomorrow and stay in an Extended Stay ( I just found out there's such a thing). They want me to pay for that and refund them the rent for the days when they stay out there. I refused to refund the rent. I believe that because they pay me the rent, I provide them a place a stay. If they don't pay rent, I don't have to take care of them. Is that correct? I offered to pay their stay at the Extended Stay up to a month, give their deposit back, and terminate the lease. But they simply would not want to leave. They said they love the house and the location. And said they don't care how expensive and how long to fix the problem (if any), they want to withhold the rent, live out on my expenses, until the house is ready for them to come back. The floor guy told the tenants that he smelled mold from the old carpet that he was taking out from a bedroom before I got there. There's no black stuff or wet spots, no leaks anywhere. I don't have anything to repair. The tenant said he has to meet the person who comes to do the test. I'll get the test, I'll pay for them to stay out, but my dear lord is there anyway to get them out of there for good? The tenant said " You can't say it's beyond your financial ability to repair it. You have assets, home, cars, and this house. You have to do it no matter what". Is that true? When I pay for their stay out, do they still need to pay me rent? I never had tenants like this before. It's so unpleasant that I can't sleep and can't eat. Oh, well, I did try to put up my photo but the upload just keeps running forever. I'll try again later. Thank you!

Oh, by the way, tomorrow, they'll check out the hotel. Shall I call to book the Extended Stay for them or tell them to book on their own and I reimburse them later? Please advise ASAP.

IMHO, do whatever is necessary to delay to Monday, find an attorney and pay them to assess the situation. Paying an attorney a couple hours at $200-$300/hr might be worth every penny. How much per month is this rental? Testing probably won't be instantaneous as they'll take air samples and send them off to a lab which will take a couple days.

Get them out!! These guys sound like a nightmare.

I'm willing to pay for the attorneys, not to the tenants. It's such a nightmare. His words are scary. I turned down the other applicants because they emailed me again and again saying how much they loved the house. I thought the person loved the house would take good care of it. Right after we signed the lease, they asked to move in early for free, then this and that, and hardly kept quiet for a month. How to get them out? How? And How?

@Sherry Chen  This is a tough situation but you can make it through.

First, you need to have an experienced lawyer on your side that can guide you in this. Make sure the lawyer is highly recommended  and experienced in landlording/evictions issues. Things will get immediately better when you have someone with experience fighting on your behalf. A good lawyer will put your tenants on the defensive and I bet that they'll back down when they see they can't win.

In the meantime and to answer your questions, these are my opinions:

1) I agree with you that if you are paying for their "extended stay" or hotel, that they need to be paying you rent. If they refuse to pay rent, I would refuse to pay for their hotel. 

2) Read every word of the lease you have with your tenants. Look for anything that lets you terminate the lease or for anything that indicates that the tenants are in breach of the lease. Bring this to your lawyers attention.

3) Based on what you've written, I doubt that the floor guy said anything negative and to you, it's all hearsay because you're relying on what the tenant is telling you. Your tenant cannot be trusted to be fair. There is no evidence for mold so I wouldn't do any testing or even entertain any validity to the mold claim until you talk to a lawyer.

4) Book and pay for the extended stay hotel yourself. Do not trust the tenant to do this. The tenant may make extra charges or book into a more expensive place. Do not let them choose or you will more than likely have to pay more than if you did this yourself. If you give them control, the tenants will take advantage of this.

5) You have an advantage as long as they are not in physical possession of your house. You will need to strategize with your lawyer on the best way of keeping them out.

Those things that your tenants said to you are scary. They have every intention of getting as much as they can from you for free. Get a good lawyer to stand up for you, shield you from liability, and get rid of them for the minimum amount of cost. If you don't, these tenants will bleed you dry. Hang in there!

Thank you so much for your clear guidance, Andreas! I just booked the Extended Stay for them for a week. They are too scary. The man said he did research on the house values in this area and the income of the people who live here, and how much they love the house and the location... I feel so threatened. If I give in, do everything they want and let them come back, as long as they are in my house, I live in a constant nightmare.

I'll start searching for a good lawyer right away.

Can anyone recommend a good lawyer in Austin TX?

Seeking out competent legal advice or even a savvy investor or property manager is critical.  If I may be so are letting them run the show, and they are capitalizing.  You are operating and making decisions based on their emty threats, Internet research, and uninformed.  I agree with @Andreas Mirza , read your lease and study the respective duties and responsibilities you each have.  Don't let them double dip.  If you are paying for alternative accommodations you don't reimburse for rent.  They bring issues and maintenance requests to your attention and it is your decision on how, when, and who will repair it and in what fashion.  Use the guiding principles of reasonableness and foreseeability, document, and keep them informed of your decisions and progress.  They can decide to stay, move out, make additional requests and you simply respond based on the lease terms.  Best of luck to you.

You are letting the tenant be in charge of the situation. You need to take hold of the situation and start leading.

Never let a tenant start pushing you around, ever, if you give them a foot they will take a mile. If you get them a mile(like you have) they will take ten.

I would strongly suggest getting some landlording books or getting property management so someone can take charge.

Just curious, how was it that you were replacing the floor with them already occupying the place?  Did you let them move in before you had finished make ready?   

Judon Fambrough, lawyer for the RE research center at A&M, put a Texas Lanlord Tenant Guide on the web.  You should read that and your lease.

Updated almost 4 years ago

You may want to to begin communications or verify them in written terms by mail or email and require them to communicate in writing, too.

@Sherry Chen  

I had a mold smell.  It ended up being in the furnace.  I replaced the furnace and it's all better now.  

P.S. Kick that flooring guy in the nuts

Could also be "professional tenants"..... starting to smell like a moldy rat! Yep, you're gonna need a competent lawyer on your side who specializes in landlord-tenant law. Document everything you can remember that was said or done up to this point. Future communications in writing. If you talk to them or go to the property, bring another person with you to witness. Check out if the floor guy really said anything or if this whole thing is fabricated. If they recently moved in, why are you redoing the floors and/or floor covering now? Did they establish tenancy before the house was ready? Did you complete a property condition report before they moved in and did they sign it? Did you do a thorough background check on them? What did their previous landlords have to say about them? We are rooting for you....but also surround yourself with a local team of people that can watch your back and provide you with guidance.

I'm really touched by you all people here. They did sign the lease which indicates that the tenant examined the premises that they are in good condition. After they moved in, they started bugging me saying the floor is getting bad. Later on they said it's unsafe and dangerous for their children to walk on it because they may get a cut. They threatened a law suit if I don't get it replaced. The floor guy installed the new floors in the living & hallway before they moved in. So I hired him again for the bedrooms which had the old floors. When I got there to pay for the floor guy, the tenant said Ray (the floor guy) has something to tell you. So he showed me the room, saying he didn't see any black stuff, wet spots, or leaks but smelled mold from the old carpet pad. He admitted that he is not mold professional but then the tenants insisted they smelled mold too. As they have young children, they can't stay there anymore. You know the rest of the story. I can't eat and sleep for days now, hating myself for being so stupid. There is no sign of mold in the house, no leaks either. What to repair? Yes, I pay for their moving expenses and stay in the hotel, and give back the deposit, but they love the house, don't want to go, and don't live in it now. Ok, run the mold test, no matter what the report would show, do the remedy, then they'll move back. As long as they stay in my house, I live in an endless nightmare. They moved in last May on a 2 year lease. I never had a quiet month. Before the term expires, I may have killed myself already. My insurance don't cover mold. I don't have an attorney. I searched for a lawyer online today and will search tomorrow. Actually, it is 4:00 am now. What shall I do?

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I believe this is only one of the rare accident. The normal life of a landlord should not be like that. I hope you learn a good lesson and never give up. Read up alot of good stuff here and in books. Like most of the guests on BP podcasts said, perseverance and persistence.
I'm sure many years from now, thinking back at this accident, you would laugh.
All the bests,

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