According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is two-to-five times more polluted than outdoor air. We spend 90% of our time indoors where we breathe in many harmful particles, including
mold. As the rainy season continues in the Northwest, moisture accumulation supports mold growth.
Molds are very common outdoors and, to some extent, mold spores are unavoidable indoors, as they spread easily. Mold can cause severe damage to the structure of a building. Rental units, especially those with structural damage that trap moisture and enable mold growth, may become substandard living conditions.
Bringing up mold issues with your landlord
Oftentimes when tenants raise the issue of mold, they are concerned that their landlord will hold them responsible for creating excess moisture and causing mold to accumulate. For instance the landlord may allege that the tenant has not run the bathroom fan, or not turned the heat on in their unit. However, mold caused by structural damages such as leaks and other moisture issues can be addressed in the form of a repair request to the landlord.
The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act mentions mold in RCW 59.18.060. The law requires landlords to provide tenants information at the beginning of the tenancy with the most current information the Department of Health has about the health risks associated with mold. This information can be handed to a tenant or posted in common areas.
As many tenants know, having the information does not directly address the issue of mold, especially in serious repair situations where mold growth is a result of flooding, leaks, or other repair issues that are causing moisture problems in a unit.
By sending a repair request in writing (certified or regular mail; keep a copy for your records), a tenant can notify the landlord promptly about the mold issue. In time-sensitive situations where severe moisture persists in the unit – due to flooding for example – a tenant may need to first call the landlord to notify them as quickly as possible and also send the notification in writing. RCW 59.18.070 describes the timeline requirements for the landlord to begin repairs. The EPA recommends that flood cleanup begin within 24-48 hours. Mold needs a moisture source to grow; therefore, if cleanup isn’t handled promptly or the area has not been completely dried, mold will continue to grow and can cause structural damage.
Tenants can send a repair request in writing about other repair issues such as: plumbing and leaky pipes, bathroom fan not working properly, drafty windows, gutter problems, water in basement, and other moisture problems that can encourage mold growth if not addressed. Substandard housing may have other moisture sources such as water seeping in rather than sloping away from the house, which can be an issue with the foundation of the building.
Tenants who live in basement units face additional challenges with persistent mold. Basement floors are most often concrete, which is very porous – and basements also tend to be much cooler – hence moisture collects and is very difficult to control. If repairs are not addressed, tenants can take pictures of the mold to document it. When you take the photo, hold a current newspaper up in the picture to show the date the photos were taken. This documentation can be helpful when moving out – especially if the landlord is withholding the tenant’s deposit or trying to charge the tenant for damages due to mold.
Mold can cause many health issues, especially for those who are sensitive to it or have respiratory problems such as asthma. Health effects can be so severe as to require hospitalization, missed days of work and other severe complications. Tenants can consult with an attorney to address cost and health damages they may have accrued. Contact the Tenant Services Hotline (206.694.67667) and refer to our website for more information on repairs and other topics related to your tenancy, as well as referrals to legal aid services and other community resources. Tenants may want to contact their local Department of Public Health for further information about the health risks of mold.
Tenants can decrease the relative humidity inside their homes and maintain it between 30-60% by ventilating and heating. Seattle residents can contact the American Lung Association for a FREE indoor air quality assessment in order to address issues such as mold and other indoor air pollutants. For those outside the city limits, this service may still be accessible through volunteer services.
For tenants who have concerns about black mold or are planning to have an indoor air/mold test in their homes, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Mold comes in many different shapes and colors.
- Wear protection, such as gloves and a face mask, when scrubbing mold off with soap and water.
- Spending money on air tests is up to each individual to decide; however, most mold tests will come out positive as almost every home has some mold spores.
Simply identifying that mold spores exist will not address the underlying problem of the moisture source. The key issue is to eliminate the moisture problem and keep the area dry to further prevent mold. Another common misconception is that it is best to use bleach to clean up mold. This might make the situation worse for those who are already sensitive to pollutants. Bleach will turn mold spores white but it will not eliminate them, and it does not address the real moisture problem. See the American Lung Association’s website for safe alternatives to bleach. Repairing structural damages, eliminating the moisture source, appropriate cleanup and maintaining a dry environment are crucial for a mold-free home.
For information about your rights as a tenant please see our Tenant Services website.
The information contained in this article or linked to on the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.