The Renter’s Guide to Mold

Whether you’re a first time renter or an apartment pro, you’re too familiar with the hassles of rental life such as noisy neighbors and parking problems. However, indoor mold is one of those issues you hope to never face. Your friends here at Tri State Restorations have compiled a guide to help you quickly spot the signs of indoor mold and quickly to deal with it.

Signs of a Mold Problem

Mold becomes a problem indoors when moisture and warmth meet a food source (think: wood, drywall, plaster or even carpet). Sometimes, a mold problem is not visible to the naked eye. Here are a few signs that point to mold in your apartment:
  • Water stains on the ceilingStained ceilings could mean roof leaks, pipe leaks or appliance/bathtub overflows from your neighbor upstairs.
  • Bulging, bubbling or peeling paint or wallpaper – Bubbling or peeling paint hints at moisture problems behind the wall, such as a slow leaking pipe.
  • Rusty nails, pipes or fixtures, condensation on windows – Rust and drippy windows can mean it’s too damp inside. Mold can easily grow behind walls and on wood studs when the humidity is too high.
  • Musty or stale odor indoors – Does your apartment smells like an old library book or a locker room shower? You could be smelling mycotoxins – a byproduct of growing fungi.

    Uncovering extensive microbial growth behind a ceiling.

  • Previous water damages or leaks – If you’re a new renter, you may not know the damage history of your apartment or building. If the unit had previous, untreated water damages, you could have conditions present that allow mold to grow,
  • Patches that appear to be dirt, dust or soot (and they keep coming back) – If you notice patches of suspected dirt or soot popping up in humid corners of your apartment or bathroom, this could actually be visible mold growth. Take photos and if possible, seal off these areas with strong plastic to prevent spores from going airborne.
  • New allergies while indoors – If you’re coughing or wheezing more; have new skin rashes or hives; get headaches, nosebleeds, or sudden bouts of forgetfulness, you could be experiencing health effects from mold exposure. A doctor can confirm whether or not this is the case.

As a renter, you should document all your findings with photos and with notes detailing when you first noticed these conditions. You can also help prevent future mold issues by quickly reporting any leaks, water overflows, or any of the above signs of mold to your landlord or property manager ASAP.

Detecting and Testing for Mold

Don’t wait to take action if you’re convinced of a mold issue in your apartment. Mold is not just a cosmetic issue! If left to grow, mold can damage your possessions and contribute to serious health concerns. Hardware store testing kits often give false negative results, so resist temptation for a quick and cheap answer.

Instead, hire (or ask your landlord or property manager) a mold remediation firm to perform an indoor air quality inspection. An experienced mold remediation company (such as Tri State Restorations) will be able to do a thorough visual scan. They will often use tools such as an infrared camera and spore sample traps to confirm their findings. Next, they’ll send any tests to an third-party lab for an independent, non-biased analysis. Your mold pros will explain their detailed findings to you and/or your landlord, and will come up with a plan to cure the property of mold.

Only a doctor can diagnose health problems related to mold exposure. However, you should quickly address any elevated indoor mold and have it removed by a professional. Your property continues to be at risk for mold damage until the quick resolution of underlying problems (such as leaks).

Rights as a Tenant

Many landlords and property managers take indoor mold very seriously and quickly work with you to address indoor air quality issues. Most states now require your landlord to maintain suitable housing. This includes quickly fixing most underlying conditions that contribute to mold, such as leaking pipes, windows, roofs, etc.

However, at the time of writing, there are no federal laws in the United States that specifically address tenants rights as they pertain to indoor mold exposure.

In Maryland and Virginia, landlords are bound by an “implied warranty of habitability.” Your landlord is obligated to provide you with a property in livable condition. Depending on your situation, you could be entitled to have your apartment remediated and your costs to test for mold recouped under this warranty. However, if the damage was caused by negligence on your part, you could be on the hook for these costs.

In Washington D.C., your landlord must appropriately remove mold in your unit. After sending written notice of the issue, your landlord must inspect the mold within 7 days. They must remove the mold contamination to EPA and DOEE standards within 30 days. Tri State Restorations is certified by the DOEE to perform mold removal within the District of Columbia. This law went into effect in 2014, and is still in effect at the time of writing.

Removing Mold

The first priority of any remediation firm contracted to remove mold from your apartment should be to protect the safety of occupants. Contrary to popular lore, you cannot “fix” mold by covering it with paint, or wiping it away with bleach. The only way to truly get rid of mold is to treat the underlying issues and physically remove any contamination. An experienced remediation firm may also utilize tools such as:

  • Air ScrubbersAir scrubbers exchange contaminated air in the space for HEPA-filtered air, which removes 99.97% of airborne mold spores and other particles (0.3 m or larger)
  • Containment BarriersSturdy, plastic barriers are set to prevent cross-contamination into non-affected areas of the property
  • HEPA VacuumsHEPA-filtered vacuums to extract spores admixed with dust from surfaces such as floors and walls.
  • DehumidifiersDehumidifiers are often placed to assist with any high humidity conditions or preexisting moisture problems.
  • Antimicrobial agentsAt points throughout the remediation process, surfaces may be treated with an antimicrobial agent to help inhibit future mold growth.

Additionally, our workers will always wear full personal protective and respiratory gear while cleaning your apartment. For additional details about some of the steps involved with a typical mold remediation, read more here.

We’re not qualified to give legal advice but…

Regardless of where you live, a legal professional can clarify what laws in your municipality protect you against mold. Your landlord has a stake in ensuring his or her property is mold-free and safe for habitation. However, if your landlord fails to respond to you, you can retain a lawyer and consider filing a lawsuit. Ask your attorney about getting an order of repair or a reduction in rent. They can also advise you about recouping your actual damages and any attorney’s fees if you must go to a trial.

It’s a good habit to keep copies of everything incurred in the investigation and treatment of mold damage. This should include receipts, work orders, medical records, communication with your landlord, or any notes or photos documenting the damage.

If you suspect a mold problem in your apartment or rental property, Tri State Restorations‘ friendly experts are always happy to answer any questions you may have, or assist you with scheduling an air quality assessment as soon as possible. Call us, or have your landlord call us today at 1-866-818-1949.