TENANT’S RIGHTS: Living in an Apartment With Toxic Mold

Healthy indoor air is recognized as a basic right in the state of California.  The quality of the air you breath in your own residence has a significant impact on your health and well-being.  The presence of mold in your rental unit can pose a significant health risk to yourself and your loved ones.  Accordingly, on October 9, 2015, Senate Bill 655 was signed by California Governor Brown, which added visible mold growth to the list of dangerous health conditions defining substandard housing conditions in California’s Health and Safety Code.

As  of January 1, 2016, mold officially became recognized as a condition under California law that makes a residence “substandard.”   Accordingly, every tenant and landlord should take mold seriously.

Landlord’s Duty to Maintain the Residence

The California Supreme Court held in Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616 (1974), that all residential leases contain an implied warranty of habitability which requires the landlord to maintain the property in a habitable state for the duration of the lease.

There is implied in every rental or lease agreement between tenants and landlords a warranty of habitability, and the tenant’s obligation to pay rent is dependent upon the landlord’s duty to provide living quarters in exchange for the rent thereof that are safe, clean and that comply with all legal requirements imposed on landlords.

Moreover, California Civil Code §1941.1 asserts that a landlord has a statutory duty to put and keep the leased dwelling in a condition suitable for human occupation. The statute requires landlords to repair any harmful conditions that occur even subsequent to a tenant taking possession of the leased unit.  A leased apartment will be deemed “untenantable” if it “is a residential unit described in Section 17290.3 of the Health and Safety Code.

Health & Safety Code §17920.3 deems a dwelling unit as “substandard” if there is “dampness”, “infestation of insects, vermin, or rodents as determined by a health officer…”, “visible mold growth…”, “general dilapidations or improper maintenance”, “defective or deteriorated flooring or floor supports”, “deteriorated or ineffective weatherproofing of exterior walls, roofs…”, “defective or lack of weather protection for exterior wall coverings…”, or “any nuisance.” Health and Safety Code §§17920.3(a)(11),(12),(13),(14), (b)(2), (c), and (g)(2),(3).

Any apartment unit shall be deemed substandard under the State Housing Law whenever a proscribed condition exists to the extent that it “endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants.”

How Common is Mold?

Molds are extremely common in buildings and homes and will grow anywhere indoor where there is excessive moisture.  When mold spores drop on areas of excessive moisture, such as where leaks have occurred in roofs, piping, walls, or when there has been excess standing water or flooding, and mold will grow and spread.  Many unmaintained building material provide the necessary nutrients for molds to grow, spread and flourish.  Materials such as cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood and other wood products, when unmaintained, provide a perfect breeding ground for toxic molds to spread and prosper.

It is extremely important to test for the presence of mold if your residential unit experienced water dilapidations or leaks.

Most Common Types of Mold 

The most common types of indoor and dangerous molds are Aspergillus, Penicillium, Cladosporium and Stachybotrys

 Aspergillus: Aspergillus is a common mold which can produce toxic compounds, the most well known being Aflatoxin, which is a class 1 carcinogen produced by strains of the Aspergillus mold.  Many species of Aspergillus produce dry, hydrophobic spores that are easily inhaled.  Due to their small size, the spores are able to penetrate into the trachea and respiratory system, creating a health risk.  the common symptoms of long-term exposure to Penicillium include fever, coughing, itching, sneezing, congestion, asthmatic reaction, wheezing, difficulty breathing and burning eyes.

Penicillium:  Penicillium species are commonly considered as contaminants but they are also known to produce mycotoxins which can be damaging to the kidney and could be cancer causing.  Moreover, the common symptoms of long-term exposure to Penicillium include fever, coughing, itching, sneezing, congestion, asthmatic reaction, wheezing, difficulty breathing and burning eyes.

CladosporiumCladosporium, a well known trigger for asthmatic attacks, is one of the most widespread molds.  In an indoor environment, Cladosporium spores occur as secondary wall colonizers, appearing after the primary ones such as Penicillium and AspergillusCladosporium spores thrive on wet building materials such as unmaintained walls, wallpaper, carpets and wood.  Prolonged exposure to Cladosporium can trigger chronic allergy and asthma which can last a lifetime.

Stachybotrys:  Stachybotrys is more commonly known as “black mold” for its blackish-greenish color.  Stachybotrys growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding.  Constant moisture is required for growth.  Common symptoms of Stachybotrys exposure are respiratory issues, including nasal irritation, burning and congestion, cough, wheezing, chest tightness and dyspnea.  Central nervous system manifestations include headache, irritability, lightheadedness, sleeping difficulty, concentration problems and mental fatigue.

Landlord Liability for Mold in California

California tenants who have been harmed by the presence of high concentrations of mold in their residential unit are entitled to damages from their landlord for their loss.  If a judge or jury agrees that a landlord negligently created a mold problem or allowed one to continue at a property, the landlord would be liable for any harm caused as a result.

If you believe that your residential unit is infested with mold, it is extremely important to remediate the issue as soon as possible.  Long term mold exposure can present significant health risks.  Contact our attorneys at Simonian & Simonian, PLC. for a free consultation to discuss your rights and to learn how we can help.