“I am now having respiratory issues (asthma basically)”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Victoria Pickering

“Dear PoPville,

I live in an apartment on Corcoran St. NW and have been having repeated issues with moisture in walls and floor and now mold. Over the past two years, when I reported it, the landlord came and cleaned the affected areas and repainted them. The underlying sources of the moisture is still there (the apartment is partially underground), and I am now having respiratory issues (asthma basically).

DC passed a law last summer called the Air Quality Amendment Act of 2014. Although DCRA housing inspectors still do not inspect for mold (just moisture), the law now requires landlords to inspect for mold within 7 days of written notification and to remediate within 30 days if it is determined that the mold meets the threshold as defined by the law. Failure to meet these requirements allows the tenant to file a complaint in housing court and enables them to be awarded certain damages.

In my situation, I am still waiting to hear back from the landlord, but my concern is that they will “inspect” within the 7 day threshold and then claim that the mold doesn’t meet the requirements in the law for a professional remediation, proceed to clean it, and repaint the affected areas again, and then be off the hook.

So my questions are:
1) Does anyone have any experience with mold/resolving mold issues since this law took effect?
2) Should I have a professional inspection done to have definitive proof of the mold? The court can require the landlord to reimburse me if I take the landlord to court. The law also states that if I provide a written report of a professional inspection, this creates a rebuttable presumption that the landlord must have it professionally remediated, thus forcing action more quickly.
3) Should I file the complaint in housing court NOW given the time it will take to serve the landlord and to get a hearing date? Or do I need to have proof that they have failed to act in accordance with the law first?”

78 Comment

  • If it’s been going on for at least two years and the OP is having increased problems and the landlord isn’t doing much to help, why doesn’t she move?

    I realize that the landlord should still be doing things correctly and perhaps if he’s obligated to do so under this new law he will make the OP’s remaining time in the apartment more livable, but I’d be looking elsewhere if there are concerns about him not following through or fixing the problem.

    • Yeah. Put your health first and get out of there.
      Maybe the place is dirt cheap…

      • It is dirt cheap and is in an excellent location. My rent will go up by probably 600-800 dollars for something similar in the same neighborhood (Logan).

        • I sympathize with wanting to stay somewhere cheap despite problems, but when it becomes a health hazard, you should seriously weigh the pros and cons. The great news is that you’re in a very expensive neighborhood and can move somewhere less desirable and still afford it.

      • Hence the reason why it probably also has mold. I don’t understand tenannts like this. Why would you stay for 2+ years? And now go through the whole process of suing you landlord (seeking a financial windfall apparently) and for something you seem to be well aware of for quite some time now. Move!

        • For the record, the previous issues were not continual. I’d say they occurred with periods of lots of rain. I didn’t experience health issues until last month.

          • It sounds like you need a strongly worded letter from an attorney. I would even approach the Landlord-Tenant law clinic at Georgetown.

        • This is victim-blaming horsecr*p. Landlords are responsible for providing mold-free living spaces, regardless of how much they charge in rent.

          • Thank you. I can’t fathom what “financial windfall” I would get out of this whole situation. The mold is not my fault, as you note…

  • You might be able to get the landlord to do a professional remediation, but is it really worth all of the energy and hassle it would take to do so — especially since you’re still living there in the meantime?
    If you’re currently month-to-month (rather than in an initial 12-month lease period), it seems like the easier course of action would be to move (and if you’re not month-to-month, to demand to be released from your lease).

    • Oops, I overlooked the “[o]ver the past two years.” So it sounds as though the OP should definitely be month-to-month by now (unless the landlord offered her a better rate for signing on for another 12-month period).

  • I can’t answer your questions, but as someone who gets asthma when exposed to many substances, including mold, and thus often has to alter my life to avoid them, I would advise you to focus on moving ASAP. Is it worth the damage to your lungs (and potentially to other body systems when mold is involved) to stay there?

  • I’d contact the landlord-tenant resource center at the DC housing court. They are a fantastic and free resource. Make sure you show up at 9am when they open though as they fill up their slots for the day pretty quickly.

    • But don’t be surprised if you don’t find them fantastic. I didn’t, they gave me bad advice, even when my landlord was breaking the law. I’m one who suggested moving is better. But I get that others have different temperaments. I moved rather than fight my lawbreaking landlord – just not worth it to me to be in that conflict, though expensive. As much as I’d like to be somebody who stays and fights, the flight instinct in stronger in me, and I can’t change it. But I have known people who have suffered through mold remediation to keep rent stabilized units in NYC. So, while I wouldn’t further damage my lungs and health way, I recognize that others have a different approach, and wish you good luck if you stay and fight it.
      Though I do wonder if you are rent controlled, or whether your landlord can just jack up your rent after spending money to fix the mold, assuming the landlord ever does fix it. If not under rent control, it may not be worth it to you to stay. If it is, I understand the desire to stay, though I wouldn’t be able to do it with my lungs.

      • Yes, it is rent-controlled. I am definitely NOT going to put my health at risk, so I will not be going back in until something is done. I am lucky to have family in the area that I can stay with.

  • OP here….the mold hasn’t been going on for two years. At two different points before, I had them deal with moisture in the walls and floor but it didn’t get to the point of being mold. Yes, I am open to moving. Staying at my sister’s down the street currently. I don’t really like the thought of moving and then having someone else move in and have to deal with the same stuff. This is grossly negligent, and I would love to force them to fix it.

    • Blithe

      How is this being “grossly negligent”? If I’m understanding this correctly, you reported a problem with moisture, which the landlord addressed. Now you are reporting a problem with mold — and are still within the 7 days of your report to the landlord. While you have described your concerns about how the landlord might address the issue, it’s unclear at this point how the landlord is actually going to respond.
      In any case, I’m guessing that your extremely low rent in an awesome neighborhood was set to reflect some of the likely disadvantages of living in a space that was designed as a basement. Instead of battling the landlord, I would urge you to move to a space that better meets your needs.

    • “OP here….the mold hasn’t been going on for two years. At two different points before, I had them deal with moisture in the walls and floor but it didn’t get to the point of being mold”…..

      So it has never gotten to the condition of mold? Just moisture which the landlord corrected you say.

      How do you know it is mold in the house and not just the excessive moisture in DC now…the ground and air is very wet.

      • Do I honestly need to post photos? I also did a home test kit and there was mold all over the Petri dish within 24 hours.

        • Just be careful. The reports on home mold test kids are not encouraging and in fact consumers are told “not to waste their money” http://www.moldreport.com/home_mold_testing_kits.html

          • Yeah I mean…it’s more or less 100% clear there is mold on the floor and walls. I just wanted to confirm Im not losing it (it only cost 10 bucks).

        • Mold is very common in below grade situations and a good number of people can be sensitive to it. Most of it is not toxic however, and may not meet a threshold where remediation is required (not sure of the laws in D.C.). The best course is to move if you are sensitive to it. Most landlords will let you out of the lease in these situations.

  • maxwell smart

    Tangential but related: Do run a dehumidifier in your apartment? I also live in a basement and between April/May (depending on the year) through about late October I have to run a dehumidifier 24/7. In the heat of summer I probably pull, no joke, 5 gallons of water out of the air a day. The first summer I lived in DC I didn’t have a dehumidifier and by the end of the summer I had to throw things out that were molding.

    • I have a stand up AC unit that is vented through the window. It has a dehumidifier function, but I definitely haven’t been pulling that amount of water. The walls of the apartment are quite thick, so I think I don’t have to deal with quite as much humidity.

      • I’m going to second getting a dehumidifier. I lived in a group house that had an ongoing mold issue in the basement, and our rental company used the same treatment plan as yours, we would complain they would send someone over to paint and then the mold would reappear a few months later. Eventually they installed a dehumidifier and that was the only thing that seemed to solve the problem.

      • Don’t fall into a false sense of ‘it’s probably not that’ because of thick walls! The moisture gets in regardless. Definitely, definitely invest in one while you work on figuring this out.

    • Dehumidifier is key! We easily pull 3-5 gallons in our basement during the summer.

  • Susceptibility to mold and other bio-aerosols varies from person to person. Basement apartments in older houses generally have some moisture issues due to foundation design (brick versus poured concrete, lack of waterproofing, etc.), and these issues may be difficult / expensive to remedy. If you are having respiratory issues which you attribute to conditions in your apartment you should move – your health is more important than the amount you pay in rent.

    • “OP here….the mold hasn’t been going on for two years. At two different points before, I had them deal with moisture in the walls and floor but it didn’t get to the point of being mold”

      How long did it occur in those two points? I’m not getting a clear picture on this because if I’m not mistaken mold just doesn’t come and go, it’s a living organism that grows.

      You may not be the right tenant to have.

      • I believe the other two times this happened were during the winter when the temperatures were much lower; I’m not sure. There were bubbles forming under the wall paint, and the floor is somehow getting water from the bottom of the wall

      • No tenant is the right tenant to have in a place with mold!!!

        • Thank you, I agree.

          • You’re welcome. I don’t like to see people get bullied on here – it is supposed to be not permitted, but Prince seems to let it happen (I know, it is a big job to monitor everything, and a fine line to draw.) There are a few frequent posters who basically bully everybody – I won’t even bother to respond to them anymore. They are popular with others on here, which makes me sad for human nature.

          • I’ve admittedly just skimmed the responses, but didn’t see any bullying. Which posts offend you?

        • but is her condition really related to a supposed mold?

          • Likely. Mold has a distinctive smell, and when you react to it, you know exactly what you are reacting to.

  • You need to get the hell out of that apartment. Now. If you think asthma is the only thing that mold is doing to your body, you are wrong. Get. Out. Of. That. Apartment.

    In terms of legal methods:

    You can file a complaint with the DCRA. The DCRA will likely not have an appointment for weeks before an inspection is done. They cannot site for mold, only visible water leaks. They will tell you to get a private inspection done. It will cost hundreds of dollars. They will take an air sample from your living spaces and the air outside to compare. Then you will send that report to the Landlord. That will start the clock on the notification. You can then take your landlord to court.

    None of this is worth it. Your health has been effected. Move immediately.

    1100 4th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024
    Phone: (202) 442-4400
    Fax: (202) 442-9445
    TTY: (202) 123-4567
    Email:[email protected]

    • I have also scheduled a DCRA inspection, but the first available was the 21st.

    • +1. It sounds like the landlord is going to drag the process out as long as possible. It’s probably best to go ahead and file a complaint with DCRA, for the next tenant’s benefit… but only after you’ve secured a place to move to.

      • Blithe

        Textdoc, what am I missing here? As I read the original post, the OP notified the landlord of the mold problem — and is still within the 7 days that the landlord has to respond to the concern. In addition, the landlord has made efforts in the past to respond to the concern of “moisture” before mold was an apparent concern. Why do you think the landlord is going to drag the process out?
        I’m not attempting to minimize the hazards of mold in any way. I am confused re: how the OP and others have quickly reached the “file a complaint” stage without giving the landlord 7 days to respond and 30 days to assess and address the problem.

        • Hmm, maybe I’m reading too quickly and judging the landlord too harshly.
          The OP says that in the past, the landlord has cleaned the area and repainted. The OP seems to think this is inadequate, and she doesn’t seem to have much confidence that the landlord is going to do anything different this time around.
          I guess my take is that if the OP thinks it’s going to take a big legal battle to get the landlord to “properly” remediate the mold issue, I don’t think it’s worth the OP’s time/energy/effort, especially if her health is being affected while she waits for the resolution.

          • Blithe

            Thanks textdoc! As I read it, the landlord had made a good faith effort to remedy an earlier problem when it was reported. Now a related but new problem has been reported — and the landlord is still well within a reasonable– as well as the legal — amount of time that s/he has to respond to the complaint.
            I quite agree with you on your last point.

          • Blithe, you are completely correct that some time needs to pass before I am in the right in terms of taking legal action. They did repaint the affected areas previously but it took a lot of calling back and complaining and calling back and complaining. Unfortunately, it did not solve the problem, and now I find myself in the situation I am in. I am not rushing to sue someone, I just know that in general the tenant loses in these types of situations and am trying to protect myself and my wellbeing.

    • Thoughts on if the mold and water are in an adjoining room that is not part of our lease, and the smell permeates through the wall and wafts under the door?

  • ” This is grossly negligent, and I would love to force them to fix it.”

    that language is quite telling… A.) No, it is not grossly negligent – it is the reality of living in a 150 (or so) year old structure B.) why would you “Love to force them to fix it” – would that bring you joy?

    • They are required by the law to maintain a mold-free living space. It’s seriously impacting my health. They have basically ignored my multiple requests to deal with it this time around. Negligent.

      I honestly came here to seek advice on how to deal with the legal process of this, NOT get judged for choosing to live where I did.

      • :Eye roll…

        Ok, well your situation has a lot of issues with it.

        Think this through…, if the issue is serious it will require you moving out of the unit anyway while they fix it. Despite what most would believe, the landlord isn’t required to pay for your hotel or other living arrangements while it happens. That is specifically what renters insurance is for, and from the sounds of it, you don’t have that either.

        So anyway you look at this, you are leaving this apartment. I would choose to go now for the sake of your health, rather than putting yourself through hell with your lawyers, their lawyers, the city, all just to have to move out anyway.

        • They aren’t required to pay hotel but they are required to deduct rent for time I couldn’t live in the apartment if it is due to their failure to dea with mold.

          And I do indeed have renters insurance, why wouldn’t I? Good grief, what is it with you people?

        • “:Eye roll…”

          Can we stop with the shitty tone on this website?

          • Becca is the Justinbc of real estate topics.

          • Thank you. I really did NOT expect these kind of responses. I just wanted to know if anyone has ever successfully gotten their landlord to completely resolve a mold issue (whether amicably or by going to court).

    • Yes, it is negligent. Not all basements are moldy – steps can be taken to fix that, and are required by law when renting out the basement as an apartment. If you can’t rent a mold free space to a tenant, then don’t rent it. It is sheer greed to demand rent for a space that is dangerous to one’s health. It will even make people sick who aren’t “bothered” by it – those people are just unaware of that it is their home that is making them sick.

  • Where are you noticing mold? Has it come through the drywall? I suggest cutting out some sections of the drywall where you believe water is coming in to determine the extent of it.

    Other than that pay for a mold inspection and move out immediately. You get what you pay for in terms of housing and it is not worth risking your health.

    • It is on the walls (which are basically cinder block with some sort of plaster material over them and painted) and more so on the floor by the base of the wall.

    • oh – great idea – create an opening for the mold spores to migrate into the room. I’ll grab the knife….

  • PSA: Everyone living in apartments, please check your A/C or PTAC units for mold. I live in a rent-controlled building where the maintenance and management wants to do the absolute bare minimum. We have PTAC units (the units that sit under a window and are for both heat and cold). These things are always getting mold in the coils and should be professionally cleaned every year. Instead, we just get the filters changed twice a year- no cleaning, no inspection for mold. They don’t tell people to look out for it, but I always find it in people’s units when I’m visiting or taking care of their cats. I think it’s almost criminal to know that these units are prone to mold (they are wet during the summer due to condensation), but not inform new residents to look out for it OR do the inspections yourself when we have management-mandated apartment inspections.
    I’m going to heartily recommend a dehumidifier for starts to this OP and to others. I finally purchased one for my studio apartment due to mold concerns and a desire to protect my pianos. There is noise involved with my 30-pint dehumidifier, but it is so worth it!! I’ve got my relative humidity down to 52-55 (when it used to be in the mid-sixties-mold forms around 60). Good luck to the OP!

  • Get a lawyer. Good lord people. Asking for advice on issues like these. If you can’t afford an attorney, call legal aid or a housing clinic or the office of the tenant advocate. If this is consider a substantial housing violation, try Conciliation. It is a free service.

  • OP…2 YEARS! What are you doing?!

    If you are having such a physical reaction now when it is only intermittent, then you are really setting yourself up for life long issues with mold if you don’t get out that will cost you lots more in both suffering and money than your cheap rent.

    I’ve been into probably 100 different english basements in DC over the years, and the common thread among them all, is that they are a little damp and humid. It’s part and parcel with living underground in a 100 year old + building.

    My last point, you pay vastly submarket prices for things, you get submarket quality. I am sure the landlord would be willing to dig out the foundations, reseal and add new drainage…if you were willing to pay market rent.

  • Wasn’t there a girl a couple years ago who was promoting her crowdfunding campaign to assist with her mold-related issues? What did she ever end up doing?

  • I’m not judging – I believe you when you say you are being affected and that is why I suggested that you move. As I stated, different individuals have varying degrees of susceptibility to mold, and mold is everywhere – there is no such thing as a mold-free living space. As a previous poster indicated, DCRA will investigate water intrusions but not mold.

    • Well if this goes to court as the OP is angling for someone will judge. Might as well get used to it…it’s silly to think that the decider won’t judge based on the facts which seem fluid and incomplete here.
      Not being mean or bullying….it just seems there are a lot of variables and telling comments about how the OP “would love to sue”.

      • You misquoted me. I said I “would love to force them to repair it,” not “I would love to sue” That is based upon a) their failure to deal with some other issues in the past without repeated followups and b) the fact that this is impacting my health and illegal. I would much prefer for them to fix this without legal proceedings, but given the likely cost of the repairs needed and their track record, I fear it may be necessary.

  • To answer your last question, no, you can”t file a complaint now. By your admission, they are within the 7 days for an inspection. Plus, I’m not sure where you get grossly negligent, or even garden variety negligence, since you said this is the first time mold has occurred.
    What would the complaint be – I think my landlord is going to either (i) misrepresent the level of mold in the apartment, or (ii) fail to conduct appropriate remedial measures? Not to pile on, but this question makes it seem like you’re spoiling for a fight. Given that they’ve addressed other issues when you reported them, what makes you think they won’t do the same here?

    • The paperwork required to file a complaint against a landlord only requires that you identify the violation of the housing code and the landlord’s failure to respond/deal with it. I am not spoiling for a fight. But given their past unresponsiveness and the likely high cost of permanently fixing this issue, I do expect them to say that this is a minor issue, for them to wipe the mold away, repaint, and have the whole thing start again in a few months. Because of that, I am paying for a certified mold inspector to come tomorrow and document the situation officially (which I may need to use in court, for my rental insurance if I have junk all my belongings, or for proof that any sicknesses were related to the mold).

      The reason I would want to file the complaint now is because I’m sure it will take weeks to get a hearing, and then further weeks/months for any action to come of the court’s decision. I can withdraw the complaint at any time after submitting it if I feel they have satisfied their obligations. Look at the form yourself: http://www.dccourts.gov/internet/documents/HCC_HousingCodeComplaint.pdf

  • It sounds like basement waterproofing is the only thing that will truly take care of this issue. There is probably significant moisture in the ground surrounding the apartment that is making its way in because the water has no place to go.
    My house had a similar problem where we would have water seep into the basement level along the baseboards. We had a French drain and sump installed last year, and it is no longer a problem. The French drain gives that moisture a place to go, and the sump pumps it out of the house.
    We knew we had mold, but it turned out to be way worse than we thought. If you can actually see mold, there is probably a lot more that you can’t see.

    • +1
      I’m not one to defend scummy landlords, but the work involved for the landlord involves lots and lots of money. Most likely all the drywall and/or plaster would need to be torn off the walls and replaced. A French drain will need to be installed. Flooring will need to come up. The mold will need to removed and everything disinfected. Essentially, your apartment will be unlivable for a few months. After which, your landlord could substantially raise your rent due to the “renovation.”
      Move. You get what you pay for. If you don’t want to move, purchase multiple dehumidifiers. You should be running them 24/7.

      • I agree that you get what you pay for, but I disagree that the law permits them to supply housing in these conditions.

      • Doing that work also requires permits, and engineers or architects to design the work, and it takes time to even schedule the professionals to come out and take a look and see what should be done to address it, and a contractor who can complete the work. Landlords can’t waive a wand and make water disappear.

        So, if you’re not purchasing a dehumidifier today, on sale now at any big box retailer or hardware store, then you don’t really want to address the problem.

  • There are other issues that can complicate this. For instance, if there is a French drain outside and it is the tenant’s responsibility to clean it and they fail to do so, then the landlord can hold the tenant responsible for the cost of remediation. Get out of there and move on!!!

  • For about $300 you can have an independent professional come in and do an air quality check. The firm will send the sample for testing.

    Unfortunately I have to suggest that if you are subject to moderate levels of mold you not occupy a space that is wholly or partially below grade. It is very difficult particularly in an old building to eliminate dampness in a wall. If the wall faces the neighboring building, the fault may lie there. If the wall is against dirt the protective coating on the brick may have worn and remediation most likely requires digging out the area and correcting the problem from the outside.

  • Move. Mold is extremely dangerous and is not worth a good rent deal.. Move as soon as you can

  • I get it that you have a really good deal in terms of rent amount, and ideally the landlord should be fixing the mold issue. But moisture and mold issues are very common in old houses, definitely in basement spaces. So your landlord is not going out of his or her way to make you miserable. Most people would move asap in that situation, because you could end up with long term health issues (which will eventually cost a lot more than a more expensive rental). If you want to fight it, file the paperwork and go through the process – your landlord should fix it and it will take time. But i am wondering if the satisfaction of forcing the landlord to do the remediation is worth all the personal hassles you will go through. Not to mention, once its remediated, the landlord might decide to raise the cheap rent to encourage you to leave anyway.

    But a dehumidifier is a MUST- whether its one you buy or the landlord does. They are cheap – i have one running in a 400 sf basement that i bought for $75 and it does the job and removes a ton of water! It’s totally unrealistic to live in a basement space without a dehumidifier and not expect moisture and mold issues.

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