mold making tenant sick?

21 Replies

Hi BP members,  I have a tenant that has called me to report what  he believes  to be  a mold issue that is causing him to be sick.  Now I have checked the plumbing and  found no issues and I normally am pretty diligent about repairs and preventative maintenance on my rentals but I don't want to open a pandoras box here.  

On one hand there is some mold showing in the corner of a an exterior wall  and I have cleaned this but what I am finding is this renter tends to pack this room to the brim. So I am pretty certain  that this lack of " air flow" is contributing to the problem.  I would love to hear any suggestions on how some of you have dealt with this in a professional but reasonable manner. Thanks in advance.

@Elizabeth Blazina  I would call a professional in to test for mold and tell you what type it is if it does exist. There are over 300,000 types of mold(that inst a typo) however some people mistaking think a corner has clothes in it when a hidden leak exist that causes a dangerous type of mold. As such if this exist it should not be taken lightly and can cause serious harm in which a landlord could be liable. It hopefully isnt this but just so you are informed. 

Stachybotrys: This type of mold is more popularly known as the black mold. It is a contaminant, which is found on wet cellulose type materials, and causes harmful effects to health of people and animals. One strain of stachybotrys is known to produce a poisonous toxin that is fatal to animals, whereas another type is known to be fatal to infants by causing bleeding lungs. Stachybotrys is also responsible for many other adverse health reactions in humans. This type of mold often grows at the back of walls and under ceilings, and is usually difficult to spot because of its hidden growth and also as it is not easily discovered by regular air sampling. Thus, stachybotrys has immense potential for harm to health as it goes unnoticed and can thus keep producing lethal toxins without being discovered.

Elizabeth Blazina personally, I would not call in a air quality test.

Point blank, I would tell the tenant to turn on fans, open doors and to always run the fan when cooking or boiling water. I would also recommend to them that they should consider buying a dehumidifier. Document every word in either email follow ups or letters.

Most often times what a tenant believes to be mold and is causing them to get "sick" is really just mildew with no correlation to their feelings of sickness.

Look at your lease in detail. Is there anything that might forbid the tenant from doing the things they're doing (hoarding, reducing airflow to the room, fire hazard, etc.?) 

While any mold issues should be promptly and properly dealt with, it could be as simple as your tenant wanting to break lease early without penalty.  

Personally, I would treat the "M" word like landlord kryptonite and let the renter go ASAP if that's what they want to do. Tell him you're concerned for his health and would like to offer him the ability to break lease without penalty, but only if they do so in the next 30 days.

Tell him you suspect that some of the...over-collecting... of personal items may in part be contributing to a lack of proper air flow in the room, also that these personal items make it very difficult to assess the entire residence for a wide spread issue. 

Go in with their permission and take photos.  If it's really a hoarder mess, then you can start formally asking for the person to clean up.  Most city/county code inspection offices love to get inside photos of hoarders as well. Although, that's likely to just circle back and blow up in your face with you being the one told to clean up the mess. Still, this gives you another out (code violation letters) for breaking lease and evicting. 

-J

@Marcus Curtis  @Jay Gray  I hear what you guys are saying, but mold is a dangerous thing that really can kill people. Only like a handful of the 300k types are deadly, many can cause adverse health problems. The problem is a corner of a house may leak from the outside and then you have bad types of mold growing behind your drywall, without you know it. This happens in nice homes too not just slums. While it is prob not deadly the chance it is means she cant take a risk. You cant blow off safety issues, mold ranks with smoke alarms on my level of priority. As in I treat it with seriousness and immediate attention upon report.  In the case below a home type test kit was even done and they still faced a lawsuit, even if they win, defending is expensive. The next case after blowing her off $270,000 was awarded, so spending a little money for a test is well warranted. 

http://journalstar.com/news/local/crime-and-courts...

http://www.youhavealawyer.com/blog/2006/11/06/mary...

If the tenant has allergies, he would benefit from a HEPA filter. HEPA should filter all mold spores from the air, whether or not there is a "problem". Definitely treat any mold that you find.

Originally posted by @Jeremy Tillotson :

@Marcus Curtis  @Jay Gray I hear what you guys are saying, but mold is a dangerous thing that really can kill people. Only like a handful of the 300k types are deadly, many can cause adverse health problems. The problem is a corner of a house may leak from the outside and then you have bad types of mold growing behind your drywall, without you know it. This happens in nice homes too not just slums. While it is prob not deadly the chance it is means she cant take a risk. You cant blow off safety issues, mold ranks with smoke alarms on my level of priority. As in I treat it with seriousness and immediate attention upon report.  In the case below a home type test kit was even done and they still faced a lawsuit, even if they win, defending is expensive. The next case after blowing her off $270,000 was awarded, so spending a little money for a test is well warranted. 

http://journalstar.com/news/local/crime-and-courts...

http://www.youhavealawyer.com/blog/2006/11/06/mary...

Nobody said anything about blowing off the mold or the issue. If the tenant lives like a pig, this is going to exacerbate the problem and make it difficult for mold inspection and remediation if junk is piled along walls.  I'm not a psychologist and can't help a person with a hoarding disorder, but I would try to protect my property from further damage if I could do that by offering the person an easy out. 

Originally posted by @Wilson Churchill :

If the tenant has allergies, he would benefit from a HEPA filter. HEPA should filter all mold spores from the air, whether or not there is a "problem". Definitely treat any mold that you find.

Where would you use this . It is baseboard heat so I am not sure where this would go.  Maybe in the dehumidifier?

Originally posted by @Elizabeth Blazina :
Originally posted by @Wilson Churchill:

If the tenant has allergies, he would benefit from a HEPA filter. HEPA should filter all mold spores from the air, whether or not there is a "problem". Definitely treat any mold that you find.

Where would you use this . It is baseboard heat so I am not sure where this would go.  Maybe in the dehumidifier?

 I mean a stand-alone air filter. They should have it running in any room they inhabit, including their bedroom while they sleep. That's not to say that you should pay for it, but you certainly could.

Originally posted by @Marcus Curtis :

Elizabeth Blazina personally, I would not call in a air quality test.

Point blank, I would tell the tenant to turn on fans, open doors and to always run the fan when cooking or boiling water. I would also recommend to them that they should consider buying a dehumidifier. Document every word in either email follow ups or letters.

Most often times what a tenant believes to be mold and is causing them to get "sick" is really just mildew with no correlation to their feelings of sickness.

I like the idea of a dehumidifier .  Very proactive and practical.

Elizabeth, we have a dehumidifier that we loan out to tenants.  Give it to him for a month, see if it helps.  You probably won't be able to successfully educate him on avoiding the problem.  At move in we let tenants know that the unit has no mold or mildew issues, that any that pop up are likely due to their lifestyle, but that we'll work with them.  I'd bend over backwards to encourage him to find a more comfortable place to live so you can move on with your life as quickly and easily as possible.  And use the term mildew or mold and mildew whenever possible, not mold.

In college I rented a place which had mold appear in the ceiling. It made my roommate sick. The property management company refused to address the issue. In many places you are legally required to address the address if it poses a health and safety risk. Not only that, but you may be required to provide alternative accommodations until the issue is resolved. We got a doctors note and cited the landlord tenant law for our area. The management company caved. Turns out one of the drain pipes from the upstairs unit was split and leaking. Hopefully this helps you decide what the right thing to do is...

Thank you all for the great insight . You have given me both practical and ethical ways to approach this. I will use good old common sense and start with the humidifier, as I have been both on the roof and under the crawl space and know there are no issues there.    

 I have two young adult children who are renters themselves . Some have had very reasonable landlords , some no so great.   I guess I try to wear a few hats when I deal with my  renters in that I want to educate them somewhat on proper responsibiilty( I do not change light bulbs and will charge  for a clogged toilet) but also hopefully add  value to their living arrangements.  

Again Thank you all .  BP forum is just great!

My family got very sick from hidden toxic mold from faulty construction and water intrusion.  Mold should not be taken lightly.  We owned our home and we fixed the problem.  $40K and many months of labor later, we are able to live in that home.

I have also been taken advantage of by tenants who are filthy hoarders... and mold was the least of my problems.  So I understand the caution if these people are hoarders. 

If someone is complaining they are sick, it is probably because they are sick.  

No one pretends to be sick to get out of a lease!  Moving is not fun.  Being sick is not fun.

HEPA filters are useless when it comes to toxic mold.  Toxic molds emit mycotoxins which are smaller than a HEPA filter will filter out.. and some "filters" emit ozone or kill mold.  Dead mold is more dangerous than live mold.  

Dry, dead mold (*like from a dehumidifier) is even more dangerous. 

Oftentimes, cleaning with bleach and painting with Kilz is recommended by people who don't know any better.  That's the worst thing you can do.  Both will feed the mold and make it worse.  

What's the solution? I am using the Hi Tech Air Solutions model #110 to eradicate mold. It also gets rid of formaldehyde, bacteria, viruses and even VOC's.  It's finally possible to make homes livable even for the most sensitive people.  This is new technology and the first thing I have found that actually works.

Thank you @Connor Dunham @Jeremy Tillotson  for being kind :)

There should be more people out there telling their story so less people get sick.  It is actually "common knowledge" that mold only causes allergies and asthma.... and that is so far from the truth.  

Check out the symptoms 1/2 way down this page 

--Stages of Mycotoxicosis:
http://agoodhealthadvocate.com/health/health-depar...



Regarding the cleaning of mold, the last time we had a tenant complaint where the health department got involved, the sanitarian said the last he read it was recommended to simply use a simple soap and water solution. I believe the EPA.gov site at that time recommended bleach and water. I've also used a bacteriostat like Moldstat to clean up different mold growth areas. It seemed to work very well.

The comments about airflow are right on for prevention. Some of our apartments have old aluminum windows that condense very quickly when people start cooking or showering without running fans to clear out the steam. We too have occasionally loaned out a humidifier to help get a tenant's humidity down.  

Educating the tenant is the best approach in my opinion, but it has mixed results depending upon the willingness of the tenant. Sometimes, it has been helpful in educating the tenant to give them a humidity gauge to demonstrate that the humidity is actually high!

Kurt

I own an environmental consulting company and do expert witness work.  Different people react differently to the various molds.  Find a good consulting company in your area and have them perform a mold survey.  If they find materials which need to be removed, they also need to be qualified and licensed/certified to test for asbestos and lead-based paint.  Here is a typical scope of work for a mold survey/inspection:

The mold survey will be conducted to identify visible or readily accessible mold and to test the air for mold. Extensive invasive or demolition techniques to locate and sample mold inside walls and so forth will not be used. The following services are included:

A physical walkthrough of the building to evaluate the potential presence of mold;

Collection of tape lift samples of suspect mold and/or collection of air samples indoors and outdoors using slit-impactor Zefon cassettes, then submission of those samples for laboratory analysis;

Temperature and humidity testing;

Moisture testing using an infrared camera and pin-contact moisture meter;

Collection of bulk asbestos survey samples of suspect materials which the consultant  feels will need to be disturbed to perform mold remediation work ;

Testing of paint (per-1978 buildings only) and ceramic tile which the consultant feels will need to be disturbed to perform mold remediation work with an X-Ray Fluorescence machine;

Photographs of the subject property and of situations or materials of note with regard to mold;

Preparation of a formal report containing photographs, conclusions, recommendations, and laboratory report(s).

@Elizabeth Blazina my 2 cents on this topic. We are currently doing renovations on a property. During the initial work we noticed small markings of mold in the walls. So we stop the project and remove the floor boards for reassurance. And there it was... mold again... After tearing down the wall the mold crawled 4ft high in the back wall. So we ended up demolishing and redoing several walls. We (I) cannot afford taking any chances with tenants and the city regarding mold. No way. All the best.

I can share that long looong ago I was a young renter in a home that had a mold issue isolated to one of the bathrooms. The home was managed professionally by a pretty big property management place serving the region. I took photos and sent them to the company, and they sent out an undocumented worker to to come "repair" the issue. He did not speak english, so he couldn't answer my basic question if he or his company was insured, or if he was operating in my home under the insurance of the property management company. I like to know that people performing work in my home are insured before they start accidentally breaking my stuff.  It was annoying to the property management company that I had the balls to ask if their worker was insured & they were very VERY reluctant to state that they would be liable for any damage he caused. 

So his repairs consisted of tearing out a nice granite topped double vanity and replacing it with about the cheapest smallest piece of particle board + formica topped used POS they could find.

Note that we had JUST taken possession of the property and moved in, and the beautiful guest bathroom was one of the selling points.  

When the guy replaced the vanity with the "new" one that was 1/3 the original size, he didn't bother to paint the back wall which clearly showed a larger vanity used to be there. 

He wiped down the back wall where the mold had sunk in (to what extent I'll never know) with chlorine bleach and called it a day. 

We asked the property management place to come inspect the work done by the fool, and they did. They clearly didn't like it the results of their "worker", but pretended like everything was A-OK and that I should be happy that the mold problem was "gone".  

So I asked them to get a mold test since I didn't feel like the guy was A) qualified to perform mold remediation and B) didn't do anything to inspect or remediate the in-wall mold issue. 

At this point they made the same revelation that I had -- neither of us is going to be happy -- asked me if I would like to move without penalty. I probably could have went after them for relocation expenses or something, but I just wanted to get away from such a scummy management company ASAP. 

This short story is just saying to illustrate that it can be in ones best interest if you have someone complaining about mold to offer them an out if it seems like they're at all interested in that and would be satisfied with that result. 

Of course by all appropriate means inspect, assess and remediate any mold issues ASAP. But the last thing you want is for a tenant to start contacting you about real or imagined ailments related to mold exposure.  

The problem is sometimes you both will have very different opinions of what "fixing the issue" is -- especially since the tenant lives there, and you live somewhere else. In my case, the property management company wanted to be cheap POS's and so they lost a tenant as a result.  But it was definitely the smart thing for them to do, since we were getting nowhere fast in terms of correcting the issue.

Another semi-related story to consider. I think at some point mold remediation needs to be formalized and then disclosed to any future buyers/tenants for a number of years?  This reminds me of a beautiful two story house that was rehabbed down the street from me. At one point they had an asbestos remediation team out there for about 3 weeks (so said the van) with big vent hoses running in and out of the house.  After this work was done, they did the total cosmetic fix up inside and out. It was on the market for a reasonable price and didn't sell. It was then rented to one couple with a baby, and the people moved out just about as fast as they moved in.  Then the same thing happened 2 more times (renters move out within 1-3 months of moving in).  The current residents have lived there for about 6 months now.  I'd bet dollars to doughnuts the people breaking their leases aren't paying a dime in penalty or loss of security deposit. 

For a minute there it almost made me wonder if scraping the (approx $250k) house to get rid of asbestos disclosures would be a smarter financial decision :)

1. Mold is caused by moisture. And not from the air unless your in an unvented bathroom painted with flat paint. Identify where mold is entering the house to get to your drywall. Repair it.

2. Rip that infected drywall out. Once mold penetrates your drywall, your penetrated drywall has got to go. Examine the drywall and verify once cut and make sure all moldy portions are eradicated and replaced.

@Elizabeth Blazina  there are forms that specify to the tenant what they need to do to prevent mold. Among them is to not have a lot of plants. Yes, I was surprised by this but had a tenant with tons of plants and it smelled mildewy.

Secondly, I notice you are in Seattle. We are in a wet climate so it is important to have it be warm enough. Some tenants will keep it really cold and then create lots of moisture through showers with lots of company, cooking, plants etc.

Did you ever notice any odors before you rented to them? Do you now?

Check for water intrusion. 

Make sure to keep responding until you get to the bottom of this. Don't panic. It is just a problem that can/will be solved. Good luck.

Often times it could be the tenant that is causing it such as not using the fan while showering etc. I'd ask them a lot of questions on what they are doing in the house to see if they are causing the problem. Ask them to run ceiling fans more often and dehumidifiers to help dry it out. You could also install stronger ceiling fans. If it seems serious though I'd get an inspection done.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

Lock We hate spam just as much as you

Join the Largest Real Estate Investing Community

Basic membership is free, forever.