Mold is everywhere, especially if you live in a wet climate; there is simply no way to escape it. Mold spores drift through the air and settle on the couch, on your face, on the floor, everywhere! The problem, however, is when mold spores are given an environment where they thrive and begin to grow on surfaces. This is when the dreaded “black mold” shows up, something that strikes more fear into the hearts of tenants than anthrax or Ebola. The truth is, black mold is just a naturally occurring fungus that, when highly concentrated, can cause allergic reactions for those with weak immune systems. That said, if your tenant sees a small amount of mold on their bathroom wall, you can bet they’ll be calling you telling you about their leg pain, their headaches, their sleepless nights, and their hepatitis — all caused, of course, by that dreaded “black mold.”
All joking aside, the presence of visible mold is a serious issue landlords need to deal with swiftly. As stated by NOLO.com, “across the country, tenants have won multimillion-dollar cases against landlords for significant health problems — such as rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, cognitive losses, hemorrhaging, and asthma — allegedly caused by exposure to ‘toxic molds’ in their building.” Some states, like Washington and California, actually have laws that require certain disclosures be given to all tenants when they sign a new lease. Besides the health concerns for those with weak immune systems and hypochondriacs, mold will also cause significant damage if left untreated (and many times, because of the stigma behind mold, tenant’s won’t go near it with a ten foot pole, even when it’s an easy fix). Therefore, mold IS your problem, whether or not it is caused by the tenant or your building. If it’s caused by your tenant and they fail to remedy the problem, deal with it swiftly, hold your tenant responsible for the damages, then educate your tenant on how to prevent future occurrences.
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Why Mold Grows (& How to Deal With It)
Mold tends to grow where there is poor air flow and moisture. This is why bathrooms are the worst culprits for mold, usually due to the lack of a window and the continuous steam from hot showers. Mold also can grow easily behind furniture that is pushed too close to a wall, if there is a heavy level of moisture in the room air. Notice that in both of these cases, the mold is NOT a disease, mischievously planted by the landlord, despite what tenants might think. Mold is commonly caused by the tenant, but as the quote above by NOLO shows, this doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility to deal with it.
Step one in dealing with mold is making sure you and your tenant are properly educated on what causes mold and how to clean it. We would recommend printing out the PDF produced by the United States EPA titled, “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home,” which you can download for free at http://www.epa.gov/mold/pdfs/moldguide.pdf. Make sure your tenant gets a copy of this document when they move into their unit. Also, explain to the tenant that mold is most commonly caused by three things:
- Steamy showers
- Furniture against walls
- Leaky pipes, ceilings, faucets, etc.
Explain to them that numbers one and two are their responsibility, and number three is yours IF they report issues. If they don’t report a leak that results in mold growth, this falls under the category of avoidable damage, most likely making them liable for the expense of the remediation. Encourage your tenant to run the bathroom fan at least one hour after every bath or shower and run their kitchen fan while cooking. This is probably the number one reason why tenants have mold; if they do not use proper ventilation during these activities, all that warm, moist air will settle throughout the house, creating a prime environment for mold and mildew. If the tenant’s bathroom or kitchen does not have a vent, install one. Be sure they understand the need to properly ventilate their home by opening windows and airing it out on nice days, make sure they keep their couches, their beds, and their clothes away from walls, and they don’t cram items into corners or against walls in non-ventilated areas (such as closets, cabinets, or attics). And of course, be sure leaks are fixed immediately.
The 5-Step Process to Clean Up Mold
According to the EPA, mold that covers less than 10 square feet (an area about three feet by three feet) can be easily cleaned up by a non-professional. Therefore, if the mold already exists in small amounts (on windowsills, behind a bed, on the shower tile), the following five-step process, as given by the EPA, should take care of the problem:
- Act Quickly: The faster you deal with mold, the less damage it can cause.
- Fix the Cause: If the cause is a leak, get that fixed as soon as possible. If the cause is heavy moisture, encourage the tenant to open windows more often or run their fan(s) more often. Also make sure the tenant’s furniture is moved away from the walls.
- Clean It: Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Be sure to wear gloves, goggles, and possibly a respirator if you are concerned about breathing in spores.
- Toss Porous Stuff: Porous materials, like ceiling tiles or carpet, may need to be thrown away if they are moldy.
- Paint: Never paint over mold (it’ll just grow over the new paint), BUT after it is cleaned and dry, you may paint it if desired.
Remember, mold is not a disease or a chemical that is likely going to kill you or your tenants. However, it is a serious enough issue that you need to understand how to deal with it to keep your tenants safe and happy, and to prevent damage to your property. It’s also important to understand mold and mildew so you don’t get stuck footing the bill for tenants whose living conditions are the result of the problem.
[This article is an excerpt from Brandon Turner’s The Book on Managing Rental Properties. For the full read, click here.]
Have you ever encountered a bad case of mold in your rentals? How did you handle it?
Let me know your experiences with a comment!