The house I’m renting has a mold problem; what do I do?

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Topic: The house I’m renting has a mold problem; what do I do?

Real Estate March 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm

The house I’m renting has a mold problem; what do I do?

I’m a tenant in a four-bedroom row-house in DC. Last fall, we had a leaky skylight, which took our landlord several months to repair. (This was in spite of our repeated requests for a repair to be done.)
Recently, we discovered mold growing in one of the rooms, and the landlord agreed to pay for a mold test to be done on the entire house. The results came back, and it turns out that we have potentially toxic mold in the air.
Our lease is silent on the matter, but what remedies do we have? Can we move out if the air is hazardous to our health?
Thanks!

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I’ve been on the other side of the fence with this situation. After the hurricane last summer my partner’s tenants discovered mold in their basement. The tests found that the air quality in the upper levels was acceptable. She offered them a reduction in rent and/or another place to stay during the week it took to remediate the mold in the basement, but the tenants refused so she allowed them to break the lease. According to the terms of the lease they were allowed to leave if the house was unsafe to live in. Of course, since the main levels of the house were safe and they were given options for an alternative living area, they may not have had legal recourse for breaking the lease. But she thought it was better to let them go than deal with a lawsuit later.
In your case it sounds like the place is uninhabitable without question, which means you should be allowed to break the lease. Is the landlord doing anything to remediate the mold? If you are interested in staying and he has someone coming to fix it, you might ask for a reduction in rent or a hotel room in the meantime.

I assume you are renting it with a few other folks and are younger so it could be that the landlord is trying to take advantage of you. On the flip side this could get very expensive for him or her but I am sure you could just nicely cite the implied warranty of habitability and ask him to let you break the lease, stay in a hotel till the problem is fixed, or reduce your rent till its fixed.  I would pick one of the first 2.
But to answer your question, yes you could probably move out citing one of many lines in the DC code or common law. But it could be a headache so sometimes its better to talk it out.

I believe mold violates the DC code, though I don’t have it in front of me so I’m not sure. The first step would be to talk to your landlord!

Move out!

I dealt with a similar situation after last year’s hurricane.  I was living in a Mt. Pleasant English basement, which flooded from all the rain, and when the landlord failed to act on the flooding issue, the walls started to grow black mold.  If your landlord is ignoring the air quality test results, like me, your only option may be to move out — with no repercussions for breaking your lease.  Check out the DC Tenant Bill of Rights and/or contact the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate to find out about other options (202-719-6560).
 
Full Tenant Bill: http://www.ota.dc.gov/ota/frames.asp?doc=/ota/lib/ota/2009_10_27_OTA_DC_Tenant_Bill_of_Rights_FOR_SH_COMMENT.pdf
 
Per Clause 6: “The landlord must ensure that your unit and all common areas are safe and sanitary as of the first day of your tenancy.  This is known as the “warranty of habitability,” which is implicit in your lease and explicit in District regulations.  The landlord must maintain your apartment and all common areas of the building in compliance with the housing code, including keeping the premises safe and secure…”

I say that if it really is confirmed positive then yo!u should move out fast! why riisk your health when you have ohter options out there. if you chose to stay then in the long run you may have a disease that would probably be more difficult to cure than simply prevent it from happening. remember, prevention is always better than cure;)

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