AS A LANDLORD, DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR TENANT REPORTS MOLD IN THE PROPERTY AND IT IS MAKING THEM SICK?
Remember, we are not attorneys and we are not trying to provide legal advice. We are describing property management techniques that have been successful for us. If someone is threatening you with litigation, you should consult your attorney regarding the specific circumstances. Also, mold is a natural part of our environment. There are likely to be some mold spores in the air you are breathing right now. However, there are many people that are allergic to mold and a mold problem that is not addressed could damage their health.
Most of the mold lawsuits we have reviewed, where the court or the jury found for the plaintiff, the landlord had a tenant that claimed mold in the property was making them sick and the landlord refused to release them from the lease. And in refusing to allow the tenant to leave, the tenant was harmed. Sometimes your tenant calls in a normal maintenance request stating there is mold in the house and they want it removed. Other tenants will tell you that, not only is there mold in the house, but that the mold is making them sick. Some of these tenants are truthfully telling you about their allergy. Other tenants see mold and think “pay day”. They want some of your money.
The steps below assume that the tenant not only informed you that there is a mold problem but also claimed the mold is making them sick. At this point you need to consider the possibility of litigation. The steps below are intended to reduce the landlord’s liability as much as possible. We want to fix the problem with the house but we also want to avoid the chance of a lawsuit, frivolous or otherwise.
Best Practice –
1. If your tenant reports mold in the property, send a mold remediation company out to confirm the presence of mold and prepare an estimate to remove the mold.
2. Do not send an Environmental Hygienist out, even if requested by the tenant. An Environmental Hygienist is the “expert” that can determine specifically what kind of mold is present. You have no obligation to know what kind it is. Your obligation is to get rid of it. If your tenant wants to know what kind (for their lawsuit) let them hire their own expert.
3. Get the mold removed. Normally that would include removing any drywall that has gotten wet. It’s a good idea to replace any drywall that gets wet as part of your normal repair procedures to prevent mold from showing up later.
4. If the tenant is claiming the mold is making them sick, then terminate the lease and let them move. Re-renting a house can be expensive but it is a lot cheaper than fighting a lawsuit. In the Georgia Assn. of Realtor’s lease form, the Destruction of Premises clause allows for the tenancy to be terminated immediately if the property is no longer habitable. Most leases have a clause like this related to fire but you might want to check your lease form to ensure it covers other reasons a place may not be habitable, such as mold. If the tenant claims that the mold is making them sick, then we inform them that, per the Destruction of Premise clause, we are terminating the lease and they should move out immediately. As soon as the tenant moves out the rent obligation will stop. This reduces or eliminates the landlord’s liability regarding the tenant being made ill due to the mold because, as soon as the tenant informed the landlord of the problem, the landlord released the tenant from the lease. So every day that the tenant stays in the property is because the tenant chose to stay.
5. Often when our tenant tells us that the mold is making them sick, and we terminate the lease, they change their tune. That’s how you can tell the tenant that truly has a health problem from one that was just trying to get some extra money from you. Before we will permit the tenant withdraw their notice, and stay in the property, we require them to sign a Hold Harmless Agreement to eliminate the chance that they will sue the landlord in the future regarding this issue.