Mold Safety Advice & Priorities for Tenants & Rental Unit Managers
MOLD SAFETY ADVICE for TENANTS - CONTENTS: Immediate safety advice for tenants who suspect mold, mold odors, or similar indoor hazards. How to handle mold problems in rental property, apartments, rental homes, offices. Mold testing advice for rental tenants. Mold testing and mold remediation advice for landlords. Should you call your health department about a moldy apartment. Do you need to move out of a moldy rental home?
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Mold safety advice for renters: before doing anything about an actual or suspected mold problem in a rental apartment, home, or office, there are a few things that the tenant should do.
This document discusses the steps that a tenant in a rental apartment or rental home can take to look for and test for
mold, how to inform building management of a mold problem, what to expect the rental property managers to do if they
are going to address a mold problem properly, and what the rental apartment tenant needs to watch out for during
a mold investigation and mold remediation of their home. An easy-to-print PDF version of this article is here.
Immediate Safety Advice for Tenants Complaining of Moldy Apartments
Before Testing for Mold, Check for carbon monoxide - a potentially fatal problem: First, some complaints I've heard, such as headache and nausea, have been traced to very dangerous exposure to
carbon monoxide, not mold. So particularly if a building has gas-fired appliances or heat, it is important to rule out
other non-mold but very dangerous conditions. Be sure that there is a working smoke detector and working carbon
monoxide detector installed in appropriate locations such as in and outside of bedrooms.
Remember that CO itself is odorless, but if carbon monoxide is being released by unsafe heating system exhaust you might smell other combustion products that are also in the exhaust.
Warning to high-health-risk building occupants: Second, people with severe asthma, compromised immune systems, elderly, infant, or otherwise at extra high risk
of mold or other illnesses should be quicker to exit questionable areas and to avoid unnecessary exposure to
respiratory or other irritants such as mold or moldy dust or demolition dust and debris.
Do not permit incompetent mold demolition work: Third, before you and the building management have a clear idea of what work is needed and what health
risks, if any, are involved, do not permit a work crew to come into the apartment and simply start
demolition. The risk is that mold-contaminated materials are indeed present and that without proper
containment, the workers can make problems worse, exposing both apartment occupants and their belongings
to moldy dust and debris.
Check with your doctor: to see if s/he has specific warnings or advice about your complaint, medical condition, and environment.
Questions & Answers about the risk of mold exposure in rental apartments or rental homes
Question: What is this bathroom floor mold that grew overnight in our apartment? Is it a hazard?
The attached photo (at left) shows a fungus that grew overnight [on our bathroom floor].
I am very aware about what your website says about getting rid of mold & fungus.
Unfortunately, as I said before, we are in a rental situation & it would take literally a war & a nervous break down on my part to have this bathroom gutted. We are moving in 2 months.
We are also keeping our local doctor informed.
Are you able to identify this species from the picture? - G.P., Australia
Reply: Focus on the important issues: hidden mold, mold cause, and clean your belongings when moving out of your apartment
I don't recognize this fungus but it resembles an early growth stage of several Stemonitis sp. family members. A mycologist can probably identify this fungus, or even a common field guide to Australian mushrooms might contain a recognizable photo of this very fungus.
More about this brown pipe cleaner-like Stemonitis sp. mold in bathrooms can be read at BROWN HAIRY BATHROOM MOLD and we provide photographs of this fungus growing on OSB subflooring in a New York bathroom at BROWN MOLD PHOTOS.
Or maybe not. Your photograph is of the fruiting body of a mature but small fungus. But fungi may produce different-looking fruiting bodies when growing on different food sources. We find that cultured mold growths, given the proper culture media, may form a textbook-perfect growth structure. But growing in the wild on various food-source materials fungi sometimes take on different forms. And it's a safe bet that in nature this fungus grows on something other than resilient vinyl bathroom flooring.
It also looks as if it is growing on the surface of resilient vinyl flooring though I understand growth could be coming through flooring if it is damaged.
But the total area of moldy surface in your photo is trivial, just a few square inches, and unlikely to be the real mold hazard in a home. Clean the surface with any household cleaner, and make sure that you are not responsible for leaving leaks or water on apartment surfaces.
Follow-Up on Bathroom Mold - Confirming Stemonitis sp.
Reader: Attached is one more photo. I'd covered the structures with a plastic bowl so I could take a shower - I left the bowl for about 4 hours & this is how it looked.
Comment: Now your bathroom floor fungus certainly looks like Stemonitis. But your earlier photo showing the white slimy clustered stalks portray Stemonitis sp. in a stage I've not seen - nice going!
I've done a bit of work with this fungus and have found it in a number of buildings on OSB subfloor as well as on vinyl bathroom floors over wet OSB or possibly other subflooring materials.
Perhaps your species is Stemonitis fusca or Stemonitis splendens. AKA chocolate tube slime. Some texts  also describe this mold family as "pipe cleaner slime" because its individual stalks resemble brown pipecleaners.
Stemonitis sp. is a member of the Myxomycota or slime mold family, and it can be slimy when new and wet. But when this fungus is dry if you just touch it gently you'll see that it produces plenty of loose brown spores. The spores are held to a central stalk by a sort of "hair net" that ruptures on touch to release a cascade of spores.
As I speculated earlier, the hazard is not this fungus, it is that wet conditions may be producing other more harmful molds like Aspergillus.
Where are the real mold hazards in a moldy apartment?
Hidden mold reservoirs, if large and allergenic or toxic, can be a problem: Because of the wet conditions and leaks that probably produced this growth, the hazard from this particular fungus could be less significant than other molds that you cannot see.
At BROWN HAIRY BATHROOM MOLD we discuss this warning to watch out for other leaks and hidden mold.
Moldy rental home contents can import a problem to your new home: Note that if your contents have been exposed to damp moldy conditions they may need to be cleaned before moving them into a new home. Otherwise, even if the new apartment or rental home is dry and clean, you could be importing enough moldy dust to be a problem for some people, both occupants and sensitive visitors to your new home.
Is it Necessary to Move Out of a Moldy Rental Apartment or Home
The short answer is ... it depends: on the amount of harmful mold and the health fragility of occupants. For most people, if the total size of an indoor mold reservoir or area of contamination is small, say less than 10 square meters of contiguous moldy material, then the cleanup is within the scope of a handyman or a healthy not-at-personal-risk occupant, using ordinary cleaning methods. (Additional steps may be needed to address the cause of mold growth.)
And for the occasional case of Cosmetic Mold on framing lumber that has been in place since the time of original construction, there may be no health risk involved.
But for large mold contamination problems, more than 10 meters or 30 sq.ft., most experts call for professional cleaning or mold remediation. In addition, extra steps may be needed to clean contents and possessions like clothing and bedding.
Watch out: people who are at extra risk of mold-related illness or respiratory illness such as the elderly, infants, immune-impaired, or asthmatics should avoid exposure to moldy environments and may need to exclude themselves from even small mold cleanup jobs. And such occupants should generally not be in a building that is being remediated because there is at least some risk of a dust containment failure that could put such occupants in danger.
Reader Question: I need advice about my moldy apartment in Sydenham, Victoria Australia
I'm in Sydenham Victoria and urgently need this house inspected. My baby and I are sick and have all mentioned problems in / by the articles [read at InspectApedia.com]. The ceiling exhaust of [...] is growing mold and its barely breathable. Please help. Thank you.
Reply: how to decide if it's safe to remain in a mold-suspect or visibly moldy rental home
I'm sorry to read of the illness and mold problems you and your family are facing. You need to call a local surveyor or your local health department. Onsite inspections are not something we can offer and unfortunately I don't have listings for Australia (where I take it you are located).
Indeed if there is more than ten square meters of moldy material in your home, you certainly do not need an inspection to determine that the environment is unsafe and needs professional cleaning and mold remediation. And if you have reason to believe the environment is making you or your baby sick you should not be there. I understand that it is far too easy for a stranger to send an email saying that the safe thing to do is move out, and that it's far more costly and disruptive to you.
Check with your doctor
Start with a visit to the pediatrician and to your own doctor for advice. If they agree that your home is at high risk of making you ill you need to find temporary, even emergency quarters. Continued exposure to harmful mold not only is a health risk, it can increase individual sensitivity, thus risk increases over time. Especially I'd be worried for a baby, an elderly person, an asthmatic, or someone who is for other reasons of fragile health in the first place, but even a person in normal health can be at risk.
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 Field Guide to Mushrooms, Lincoff, Gary H., Carol Nehring, National Audobon Society, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, ISBN 0-394-51992-2
Mold Action Guide: What to do about mold, mildew, and other indoor allergens. The steps described in this mold guide, especially the comments about when dust containment, demolition, and aggressive cleaning, or perhaps mold testing are needed will help tenants decide if their mold concern is being properly handled.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Kansas State University, department of plant pathology, extension plant pathology web page on wheat rust fungus: see http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/path-ext/factSheets/Wheat/Wheat%20Leaf%20Rust.asp
"A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home",
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
US EPA - Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Building [Copy on file at /sickhouse/EPA_Mold_Remediation_in_Schools.pdf ] - US EPA
US EPA - Una Breva Guia a Moho - Hongo [Copy on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Moho_Guia_sp.pdf - en Espanol
Allergies, Allergens, Allergy Testing in Buildings - References & Products
Allergen Tests in Buildings advice about how to test, what to look for, in evaluating the level of dog, cat, or other animal allergens in a building
"IgG Food Allergy Testing by ELISA/EIA, What do they really tell us?" Sheryl B. Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, Clinical Laboratory Director, Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic - ELISA testing accuracy: Here is an example of Miller's critique of ELISA
http://www.betterhealthusa.com/public/282.cfm - Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients
The critique included in that article raises compelling questions about IgG testing assays, which prompts our interest in actually screening for the presence of high levels of particles that could carry allergens - dog dander or cat dander in the case at hand.
http://www.tldp.com/issue/174/IgG%20Food%20Allergy.html contains similar criticism in another venue but interestingly by the same author, Sheryl Miller. Sheryl Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, is an Immunologist and Associate Professor of Basic and Medical Sciences at Bastyr University in Bothell, Washington. She is also the Laboratory Director of the Bastyr Natural Health Clinic Laboratory.
Allergens: Testing for the level of exposure to animal allergens is discussed at http://www.animalhealthchannel.com/animalallergy/diagnosis.shtml (lab animal exposure study is interesting because it involves a higher exposure level in some cases
Allergens: WebMD discusses allergy tests for humans at webmd.com/allergies/allergy-tests
Animal Allergens: Dog, Cat, and Other Animal Dander - Cleanup & Prevention Information for Asthmatics and regarding Indoor Air Quality.
Recognizing Allergens: What various indoor allergens look like - identification photos to help identify pollen, dust mites, animal dander, toxic or allergenic mold - Common Mold and other Allergens, Irritants, Remedies & Advice
Rodent control issues, including dander, fecal, and urine contamination of Buildings and Building insulation are discussed at our
Associations: Sick House, Sick Building, SBS - Air Quality, Government, Private Associations and Information Resources
Atlas of Clinical Fungi, 2nd Ed., GS deHoog, J Guarro, J Gene, & MJ Figueras, Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures, Universitat Rovira I Virgili, 2000, ISBN 90-70351-43-9 (you can buy this book at Amazon) - The Atlas of Clinical Fungi is also available on CD ROM
"A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home", U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
"Disease Prevention in Home Vegetable Gardens,"
Department of Plant Microbiology and Pathology,
Department of Horticulture, University of Missouri Extension - extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6202
Fifth Kingdom, Bryce Kendrick, ISBN13: 9781585100224, is available from the InspectAPedia online bookstore - we recommend the CD-ROM version of this book. This 3rd/edition is a compact but comprehensive encyclopedia of all things mycological. Every aspect of the fungi, from aflatoxin to zppspores, with an accessible blend of verve and wit. The 24 chapters are filled with up-to-date information of classification, yeast, lichens, spore dispersal, allergies, ecology, genetics, plant pathology, predatory fungi, biological control, mutualistic symbioses with animals and plants, fungi as food, food spoilage and mycotoxins.