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Mold and other indoor hazard or contamination advice for renters:
This article series discusses the steps that a tenant in a rental apartment or rental home can take to look for and test for mold, responding to other possible indoor contaminants or safety hazards, how to inform building management of a known or suspected building hazard or safety problem, what to expect the rental property managers to do if they are going to address a health or safety problem properly, and what the rental apartment tenant needs to watch out for during a mold investigation and mold remediation of their home.
What can & should a renter or tenant do about an unsafe (for any reason) or a moldy apartment, rental home, trailer, or other living space. Advice about handling indoor hazards, air quality, contaminants, or mold problems in rental homes, apartments, mobile homes, doublewides.What can a tenant do when s/he discovers that s/he is living in an intolerably moldy apartment?
Rental Unit Mold Contamination Guide: how to handle mold problems or other indoor air hazard conditions at a rental property - Mold & IAQ testing advice for rental tenants - what can a tenant do about a moldy apartment or rental home? & Mold testing and mold remediation advice for landlords.
Tenant's Action Guide to Indoor Contaminants, Hazards or Mold in Rental Homes, Apartments, Offices
A rental tenant in a moldy apartment in Kentucky asked us for advice. The risk in her situation was increased because she suffers from a compromised immune system. our advice to her follows her letter.
I appreciate the user friendly format and the wealth of information on your SICK HOUSE WEBSITE. I'm suffering severely from mold related illness and I need immediate help.
Two months ago I moved into a new apartment. Ever since I have had terrible congestion that appears w/in a minute of entering the apt. And only clears up after hours of leaving the apt. I have gone and had allergy testing and find we are highly allergic to *most* molds.
We have found a black shadowing mold like substance on the walls coming from beneath the kitchen cabinets. The *dust* settles on the edge of the counter at the wall beneath the cabinets. The dust is large particles that look a lot like black pepper. It also sticks to wall on the way down.
I have been made aware of a leaking roof in the 2nd floor apartments so severe that requires buckets to contain. The water, I have been told runs down the walls into the ground floor apartments where we are a tenant in one. The apartments are known to be old and from the road I can see large blackish streaks across the light brown roofing.
I've just bought two HEPA filters for the bedroom and living room which has seemed to make a significant difference in the severity of the congestion.
Also, I have been told that the air conditioning and heat is run on a water coil system (the air is circulated through all of the apartments) which happens to be in our bedroom closet.
when I removed the vent to put a filter in I found mold covering the back of the metal slats in vent cover. I cleaned it with bleach.
Tenant Wants to Move out of Moldy Apartment - Lease Breaking Issues
We need to move because I cannot live with this building-related sickness.
It is important to know what I'm dealing with before I go to management, because it seems to be such a severe structural issue, they may try to do something underhanded and cover it up.
We have a year lease and need to handle the situation in a way that will allow me get out from under this situation w/out our being taken advantage of and we are no expert in these matters.
Also I have some sort of autoimmune condition(Lupus, MS they haven't pinned it down) we are no longer able to do what I went to school for. Our fine motor skills are compromised (and I have slight tremor).
On-site inspection is important: Keep in mind that anyone whose opinion you seek by telephone, email, or web "prospecting", even if s/he is very competent, is distant and can't see all of the site conditions. Therefore such advice can only be general, and we must keep in mind that there could be, in fact probably are, important observations that might change the assessment of an individual situation as well as the advice on steps to take.
If more than ten square feet of moldy material is found in a building or if mold returns after you have cleaned a small moldy surface, ask your landlord to fix the problem.
At TENANT LANDLORD MOLD DISPUTE we describe how a tenant or a third party might inspect a rental apartment or rental home, photo-document conditions found, and if necessary, collect mold test samples using an inexpensive procedure that can be processed by just about any environmental testing laboratory.
Building-related illness symptoms often stop or diminish quickly when the suffering person leaves that location. A simple subjective test which you have applied is the observation that you suffer health complaints soon on entry to the building and they stop when you've been out of the building.
Contents may be contaminated from a prior residence: Of course if someone's apartment contents were mold-contaminated from a previous residence those complaints could still occur, so it's important to rule out that chance by recalling what reactions you had to your previous home.
Mold related illness symptoms don't always stop right away: Finally, while some building-related or building-aggravated health complaints diminish or stop entirely on leaving that environment, other complaints may be slow to appear and also slow to diminish even after leaving the problem environment. In fact high exposure to some materials such as allergens or mold can increase sensitivity to those particles in some individuals, making them later react to even low levels of such particles in a new environment.
The fact that a building occupant's immune system is compromised places that person at extra risk and means that s/he and the contents of their apartment need to be protected carefully.
People at extra risk of health problems if exposed to moldy dust and demolition debris include elderly, infants, immune-compromised, asthmatics, people suffering from COPD or other respiratory illness, and possibly others.
While chronic exposure to high levels of toxic or allergenic mold can make even some healthy people become sensitized as well, the people I just listed should be particularly careful about exposure.
See MOLD RELATED ILLNESS.
The mold that you *see* may not by any means be the whole problem, or even much of the problem; various species could be in building cavities and in the HVAC system.
Too often we find that "black mold" on building surfaces has received attention but hard-to-see Penicillium sp. or Aspergillus sp. (for example) remain in large reservoirs on building surfaces or in insulation.
One of the ways an expert finds the problem mold reservoir(s) in a building is to first understand what causes mold - see MOLD CONTAMINATION CAUSES.
and second, where it is likely to be found - on what it grows.
Magic bullets: Also, "bleaching mold" or "fogging" or "encapsulating" mold is never a successful remedy for a moldy building. See BLEACHING MOLD, Advice.
The places where mold is growing must be found, moldy material removed, exposed surfaces cleaned, and the causes of mold growth corrected.
If the area of mold growth is large (more than 30 sq ft of contiguous moldy material) the work needs to proceed with special procedures to avoid spreading moldy dusty debris around.
The tenant or building maintenance staff may have already identified apparent mold reservoirs or sources, and of course there could be other sources from other leaks or problems they haven't discovered:
Roof leaks - can have leaked into ceilings and walls; depending on what building materials used, they could be moldy with problem molds.
HVAC systems - If there is a common A/C duct system which has become mold contaminated, no amount of cleaning in your immediate apartment would be sufficient since it is possible that the whole system needs to be cleaned, or possibly some duct sections replaced, and the cause corrected. Also it is common for A/C condensate or water from a chiller system to leak; water could have leaked into your closet ceiling and walls, also creating a problem mold reservoir.
Building insulation - often building insulation has become mold contaminated but looks "clean" to the naked eye. Few mold inspectors test this material, yet it is often discovered to be the principal problem mold reservoir in some building areas.
Very often when we visit a site we find other leaks and mold sources that need to be addressed, so I wouldn't assume these are the full extent of what needs attention.
Mold cleanup cost concerns:
Sometimes a building management is reluctant to face the expense and trouble of handling leaks and mold contamination correctly.
Correct response might require a (costly) thorough building survey, evaluation, diagnosis of problem areas and their causes and specification of the steps to remedy them, followed by performing of the work followed by clearance inspection and testing by someone not at all connected with the contractors performing the remediation. It would be rare for a building manager to have such an expert on full-time staff, so hiring an outside expert would be necessary.
Mold fear concerns:
Reluctance of building managers to address mold also comes from the wish to avoid alarming other tenants. In our experience this is always a mistaken notion, as tenants talk to one another anyway, and building-related illness frightens people - fear spreading faster than mold growth.
Accurate information and the assurance that tenant concerns are being handled competently is more effective than other less direct responses by building management.
True cost of improper mold remediation: Half-baked or amateur workmanship risks increasing the ultimate cost to the building management:
In sum, it's least costly if mold remediation is performed properly in the first place.
1. Notify in writing: You should notify building management in writing of unhealthy unsafe conditions that need attention and that you are
unable to live in the apartment. If you are not certain of the presence of unsafe conditions in the rental apartment,
your letter should state your observations, complaints, concerns, and ask the building management to bring in the appropriate
professional to inspect, diagnose, and if needed, specify what repairs, cleaning, or remediation are needed.
Most building maintenance employees lack the training to recognize mold, conduct appropriate mold inspection and testing, diagnose the extent and causes of problem mold, and evaluate the risk of mold to rental tenants, nor specify the mold remediation procedures necessary.
The U.S. EPAsuggests that renters should report all plumbing leaks and moisture problems immediately to your building owner, manager, or superintendent. In cases where persistent water problems are not addressed, you may want to contact local, state, or federal health or housing authorities.
HEALTH DEPARTMENT HELP for RENTERS
2. Simple mold testing: You might be successful in identifying some of the mold suspect material you see as problematic, and you might
collect a settled dust sample to see you can pick up indications of other problem molds or allergens.
However identifying mold in an apartment, while it may convince building management to act, does not and cannot establish the level of exposure that an individual has had to the mold found, nor does it assure that the mold identified is the only or even the main hazard. The prime use of tenant sampling in this case is to show management that there is at least some evidence of problem mold in the building
Our mold sampling instruction contains sampling instructions you can follow. I'm on assignment out of the U.S. and won't be processing any lab samples until after 9/10 so if you are in a rush you should use another lab but you can still follow our sampling procedures.
3. If building management responds: If building management elects to make some effort to deal with the problem:
3.a. Proper dust control: be sure that the work does not create demolition debris and mess which contaminates or further contaminates your belongings, especially soft goods like curtains, carpets, bedcovers, which may then require cleaning, and worse, upholstered furniture which might not be able to be cleaned adequately.
3.b. Possible contents cleaning: if your possessions are already likely to be contaminated with moldy dust they should be cleaned before taking them to a new home; soft goods can be laundered or dry cleaned; hard surfaces can simply be washed or wiped. Moldy upholstered furniture is in question depending on how bad it is; surface dust can be vacuumed off of it; if upholstered furniture has been wet or has had mold growing on or in it is probably not salvageable without complete reupholstering from the frame up.
4. Should I Hire a Mold Expert to examine my moldy apartment?
See MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT, HIRE ? for help in deciding when it is appropriate to bring in an expert. In general we do not advise tenants to face the trouble and expense of hiring an expert to inspect and test their landlord's building (or apartment and areas that affect the apartment) for mold.
But the information in that article suggests that when you are facing a serious health or economic risk, and if your landlord is not responding to your written and oral requests for help, hiring an independent expert may be useful.
In some egregious cases tenants have taken their complaint to the local health department.
Renters in New York City who have a mold problem in their home and who have not been able to resolve it can contact the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
Call 311, or visit nyc.gov/health. Select 'M' in 'Health Topics A to Z' and click on 'Mold'.
If you live in another city or town, contact your local health department for advice. But beware; the staff at some health departments may not be educated about the common causes, extent, and potential health complaints often associated with mold exposure.
If there is a serious and obvious problem with mold or other health concerns in a rental apartment the health department may condemn the property and require the owners to act. In our opinion this rather drastic step may be appropriate in dire circumstances. It will also be likely to end any cooperation between landlord and tenant.
The more you know about proper procedures to find and clean up moldy buildings the better you can assure that your situation is handled properly. The articles at these links might be helpful:
When to Hire a Mold Professional - see MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT, HIRE ?
When is mold a problem in buildings? What should be done about it? Find expert field and lab testing, inspection, remediation advice, but ... avoid "fear of mold" and bogus advice which can both cost you and yet may not really address the problem effectively. Our interest is in providing expert service to our clients, protecting not only their health but their wallets
At our Mold Blog MOLD CENTRAL: indoor air quality investigation case histories, I post summaries of field and lab toxic or allergenic mold and other indoor air quality investigations. I omit private information. I describe observations, procedures, and findings helpful to readers who are trying to remedy their own mold, allergenic, carbon monoxide, odor, or other indoor air and related health concerns in their indoor environment.
(Apr 12, 2016) MT said:
I rent an apartment in Tampa, FL and have recently located what I believe to be mold in the A/C handler/Unit. I have had a host of health issues since moving in last year including sinus/allergies/migraines, etc. I even have had to go to the emergency room a couple of times (1st in my life).
I have been taking some preemptive strikes to help keep the dust/allergens, etc clear and went to replace the filter in the unit and happen to notice what I believe to be mold. I notified the property manager right away and a maintenance person was dispatched. The maintenance person took two seconds to "look" at it and said, it's not mold.
Then took my little zip lock of samples and left. I am left confused and concerned. Not sure what next steps should be.... any ideas?
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I'd take a look at RENTERS & TENANTS: MOLD ADVICE or from elsewhere at InspectApedia.com by using the search box just above. That will give you so9me suggestions on how to proceed.
Continue reading at HEALTH DEPARTMENT HELP for RENTERS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see NEW YORK STATE HEALTH DEPARTMENT CONTACT INFORMATION & DIRECTORY for an example of contact information in the U.S.
Or see MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT, HIRE ? - figure out when to hire someone
An easy-to-print PDF version of this RENTERS & TENANTS: MOLD ADVICE article is HERE.
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