Mold found in rental after moving in

12 Replies

Hi All -

I’m a new member but my wife and I have been following this board for some time and really appreciate all the great conversations! I finally have a question worth signing up and posting :)

We recently sold our home and became renters (large profit on the home, but the major driver was my daily commute). We have run into an issue with our rental and landlord and would like some advice.

The unit has had a slight smell in the master bedroom since we moved in, but we attributed it to the old carpet. Well about 4 months into renting we saw a corner of the room was mushy about 2 feet up and visible mold started growing. We immediately notified the landlord and they acted quickly. They hired a plumbing company to remediate the mold and a pest control guy to patch the roof. There was a leak above the shower and in another room in the house. The shower shares a wall with the soaked wall. They also had to silicone a bunch of cracks in the tile shower, shoddy workmanship on the shower. This is where’s it gets complicated...

They hired a non-certified company to remediate the mold (I’m assuming it was cheap). I mentioned multiple times through the process the smell was still extremely strong. The landlord stopped by and said, “I don’t smell anything”. Well, they closed it all up and we all went about our lives. We gave it about a week and the smell was still there. In fact, it had gotten stronger. We decided to have a professional mold test performed. They found very high levels of moisture (even in the walls that were recently remediated). More concerning they found high levels of stachybotrys. We immediately notified the landlord and worded our email a lot more strongly (we also mentioned my daughter, who is 6, has been sick for a couple of months as well - issues with her ears). We noted it was very important to us because of the health of my daughter and we needed a safe environment. We provided the report.

The landlord responded back frustrated but wanting to get it resolved. She acted quickly again and properly remediated the issue (mold was found on other walls in the bathroom as well, behind the toilet which is on the opposite wall). All of the baseboards had mold, even the ones the initial company put back on... Everything is good now with the home, the smell is gone, and I feel like the mold is taken care of. The challenge is they did not identify the source of the leak and the landlord is blaming us for condensation on the shower door leaking onto the tile floor and seeping into the wall. I was adamant this wasn't the case, we've always had a mat down and honestly, we're careful and clean people. Not to mention the amount of water required to run off a shower door from condensation to soak a whole wall... I understand this to be her trying to protect herself from a lawsuit (which we're not asking for, we just needed it to be done correctly as to eliminate that as a possible cause of sickness for my daughter)

Some side notes. It rained HEAVY this year in CA. It was solid, heavy rain. Not normal for CA. Coincidentally it started about a month after we moved in (it was October time). I spoke with the remediation company (over text so it's documented) and they admitted they told her it was most likely due to the rain, not the shower door. They also noted they recommended HVAC cleaning, as well as replacing the carpet, she opted out of both. She didn't even want to pay for new baseboards and the cheap tac strips for the carpet (which were all completely saturated with mold)! He told her couldn't do the job if she didn't replace those.

Onto my question - I can't tell if the landlord is just trying to protect herself or trying to build a case to withhold our deposit to pay for this. I don't believe she had an inspection before she purchased this home (which was purchased for renting, and only a few weeks prior to us taking possession). How can we protect our deposit at this point? It’s not “end of the world” type of money for us, but it’s the principal. There was also a slab leak we found about a few weeks after moving in (the tile floor was hot). The plumber that came to repair that said that leak had been going on for a while… The funny part… They had the hot water heater turned way down (I turned it up which is probably what helped us find the issue). This is what makes me suspect there were no inspections performed (that and they really don’t like spending money on anything). Sorry for the long post, there’s a lot to this! TIA

@Dustin Mercer ,

At this point, it sounds like you aren't inclined to trust that landlord any more, and that you really don't want to continue to live in that house.


My suggestion is to write the landlord a polite email, mentioning the twice remediated mold problem, not blaming the landlord for the mold or the way the remediation was handled, and state that you would like to move as soon as you can find a new place to move to.  I would point out in the letter that you will leave the house clean and that you expect to receive your full deposit back because you are moving through no fault of your own.  And end the letter there, and wait for the landlord's response.  

No need to add anything else for now.  Some tenants feel that in a situation like this, they should pile on with every bad thing they think the landlord has done, but that's not necessary.  Doing that might create an immediately adversarial position with the landlord.  Just state simply that you want to move, will leave the house clean, and that you expect your full deposit back.  My guess is, at this point the landlord would be happy to refund you the deposit, let you move, and start over with a new tenant.  That way, everyone wins.

Good luck.

Hi Randy,

Thanks for the feedback.  It’s funny, my wife suggested the same thing (and I’ve got the exact email typed up you suggest against sending lol).  

I think you hit the nail on the head.  We have a situation where we no longer trust the landlord and it would be better to move.  Honestly this situation has really put us off renting in general.  We’re scared we’re just going to run into this again...  from what I’m reading from others, she’s far from the worst landlord out there... 

@Dustin Mercer  I agree with Randy's suggestion for the most part.  I would also suggest adding your desired termination date and the reason for terminating, e.g. persistent health issues since moving in.  Your cause for termination is that it's an unsafe living environment.

Originally posted by @Dustin Mercer :

Hi Randy,

... she’s far from the worst landlord out there... 

Hi Dustin,

I understand your frustration in going through a problem like this, but I don't think the landlord has done anything significantly wrong.  You said that after you notified her of the mushy wall, she acted quickly.  And after you notified her of a problem on the other side of the bathroom, she had that repaired as well.  

I'm not sure many landlords would make the decision to pull apart the entire bathroom because mold was discovered on a section of one wall. Most OO homeowners would also not do that.

But you're right that worse landlords are out there.  Good luck in your search for a new rental.

Originally posted by @Randy E. :
Originally posted by @Dustin Mercer:

Hi Randy,

... she’s far from the worst landlord out there... 

Hi Dustin,

I understand your frustration in going through a problem like this, but I don't think the landlord has done anything significantly wrong.  You said that after you notified her of the mushy wall, she acted quickly.  And after you notified her of a problem on the other side of the bathroom, she had that repaired as well.  

I'm not sure many landlords would make the decision to pull apart the entire bathroom because mold was discovered on a section of one wall. Most OO homeowners would also not do that.

But you're right that worse landlords are out there.  Good luck in your search for a new rental.

Yeah we don’t think she did anything too wrong, we’re just coming to the realization that maybe renting isn't for us anymore.  I rented a long time prior to our home purchase and never ran into issues, but it was always in new apartments.  Now we’re looking at older homes (these areas are very nice, but mostly older communities).  

I think you have an interesting perspective on the situation though. I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t get that line of thinking.  It’s your investment.  Not having it handled properly can lead to more costly repairs down the line.  We had a hot water heater burst and leak in our home.  Yeah it was an expensive pill to swallow, but the thought of future damage cost was much worse...  it feels like we care more about her investment than she does. That’s really strange to be honest.

We may end up just buying after this experience.  We were hoping to have the liquid for the next downturn, but not owning our destiny In the meantime isn’t very appealing...  especially when it comes to the kids health.

Thankfully we’re educated and in a financially stable position.  I can really see how people with less means get screwed renting...  

Originally posted by @Dustin Mercer :

I think you have an interesting perspective on the situation though. I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t get that line of thinking.  It’s your investment.  Not having it handled properly can lead to more costly repairs down the line.  We had a hot water heater burst and leak in our home.  Yeah it was an expensive pill to swallow, but the thought of future damage cost was much worse...  it feels like we care more about her investment than she does. That’s really strange to be honest.

 

 It's investor mentality versus occupant (whether homeowner or tenant) mentality.

In most cases, the landlord's perspective is to treat an investment as an investment.  If there is an identified leak in the roof caused by something other than a roof-full of old inadequate, address the leak itself, don't replace the entire roof.  If there is water damage on one small area of the wall, repair that damage, don't pull out all the walls in the room, install all new drywall, new tile, and repaint the entire room.  It's an investment, not a beautification project.  If, during the repair, it is discovered that a cost-effective product can be used instead of a more expensive product (the baseboard issue you mentioned) a businessperson might decide to do what makes the most sense from a business perspective.

Of course there might be exceptions.  For instance, if the rental is in a very expensive part of town where all landlords are competing for tenants who are shopping and paying for high-end finishes.  But generally, smart investors watch the bottom line.


It sounds like you really miss the experience of being a homeowner who has complete control over his domicile.  This might be an uncomfortable period of renting for you.  :)

Originally posted by @Randy E. :
Originally posted by @Dustin Mercer:

I think you have an interesting perspective on the situation though. I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t get that line of thinking.  It’s your investment.  Not having it handled properly can lead to more costly repairs down the line.  We had a hot water heater burst and leak in our home.  Yeah it was an expensive pill to swallow, but the thought of future damage cost was much worse...  it feels like we care more about her investment than she does. That’s really strange to be honest.

 

 It's investor mentality versus occupant (whether homeowner or tenant) mentality.

In most cases, the landlord's perspective is to treat an investment as an investment.  If there is an identified leak in the roof caused by something other than a roof-full of old inadequate, address the leak itself, don't replace the entire roof.  If there is water damage on one small area of the wall, repair that damage, don't pull out all the walls in the room, install all new drywall, new tile, and repaint the entire room.  It's an investment, not a beautification project.  If, during the repair, it is discovered that a cost-effective product can be used instead of a more expensive product (the baseboard issue you mentioned) a businessperson might decide to do what makes the most sense from a business perspective.

Of course there might be exceptions.  For instance, if the rental is in a very expensive part of town where all landlords are competing for tenants who are shopping and paying for high-end finishes.  But generally, smart investors watch the bottom line.


It sounds like you really miss the experience of being a homeowner who has complete control over his domicile.  This might be an uncomfortable period of renting for you.  :)

 Yeah I can appreciate that.  I’m sure one day we’ll have investments of our own and will appreciate that fully.  I will however not forget that there’s actually human beings in the “investment” and understand with safety issues things can be a little more complicated.  I’m interested to see how my perspective changes in time as I start to own property of my own.

I am curious though, are you saying you would put moldy materials back on the wall (that’s what they did originally).  Especially with kids in the home?

I think you’re right, it’s going to be a rough period for us.  It’s funny we were really looking forward to having someone pay for all the stuff that breaks. We didn’t think about the other side of that coin.  Hopefully we’ll find a solid landlord in the future that makes things a little easier (or just stupid little things go wrong).

Originally posted by @Dustin Mercer :
I am curious though, are you saying you would put moldy materials back on the wall (that’s what they did originally).  Especially with kids in the home?

.

 No, definitely not for drywall.  However, If a piece of baseboard had a small amount of surface black mold, it wouldn't be unusual for a repairman to clean it, bleach it, and keep it.  Bleach is effective for a small amount of mold.  Larger clusters of long-term mold will probably require more aggressive mold remediation efforts.

You can search the internet for information on this.  Unfortunately, some people have a MOLD reaction to any signs of mold in a rental.  I've heard people discover mold in their owner-occupied homes, read about it and take the most cost-effective way to successfully handle the situation.  Most tenants will want to insist a landlord use the nuclear option with the slightest sign of mold, and spend "whatever it takes" to make them happy about it.  

It's the same with many situations.  If a homeowner sees ants in their house, they might go to the grocery store and buy some bug spray.  If a tenant sees ants, they call their landlord and demand the landlord call a pest control company and sign up for monthly service at 100 times the yearly cost of the bug spray from the store.  If a hot water heater stops working at an owner-occupied house, the homeowner might wait until the weekend to address the situation.  [It goes like this: Homeowner, "can you fix this today?".  Plumber, "today for $300 extra.  Saturday for my regular price."  Homeowner, "okay, Saturday."]  If a water heater stops working at a rental, the tenant always calls immediately and wants a new water heater installed by the end of the day.


It's just the way it is.

Originally posted by @Randy E. :

Acknowledging the perils of trusting anything on the web, here is the WikiHow mold page: How To Kill Black Mold

Thanks, yeah my wife has been reading on it like crazy (I’m sure adding the the anxiety of the situation).  I’d like to think we’ve been sensible people.  When the slab leak occurred we didn’t ask for it to be fixed ASAP, we didn’t ask to be moved while it got fixed.  We shut the hot water off when we didn’t need it.  We didn’t ask for reimbursement of lost water (the bill was pretty crazy, gas and water).  

Even when this was found all we asked for it to have a certified company come in and take care of it.  We didn’t ask to move while it was going on or anything (and we’ve lost use of the master bedroom and shower for about 2 months).  We just wanted it done right so it was good for the kids and safe for us.  

We read so many crazy cases and hysteria about mold (there’s lot of dramatic reading on the web right).  So yeah, we were scared at the chance it could be a health problem so we requested it to be done right.

We were upset they chose to go cheap and didn’t care about our health (that’s my personal opinion).  Now she’s trying to turn this whole thing around on us, which makes us extremely upset, insult to injury.  We just want to move on, and not pay for the bad shape this home was rented to us in - in the form of them trying to retain our deposit.

Originally posted by @Randy E. :

2 months is a long time.

Hopefully, the landlord will be reasonable and allow you to move early and return your deposit.  I would.

We hope so, but we’re doubtful.  I think the houses in our price range are hard to find solid renters for.  I know she was having challenges when we were first talking. 

I really appreciate the perspective again.  I think we’ll understand much better when we start our journey as landlords.  Not happening in Cali though!  Gonna start somewhere else haha.