Landlords owe certain duties to their tenants, even outside of a lease agreement or in the absence of a lease agreement. Some of the most common landlord duties include:

  • Collecting rent and any applicable penalties;
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  • Providing adequate notice of showing the property, late rent, or eviction;
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  • Respecting the privacy of all tenants; and
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  • Maintaining all units in a habitable condition.

The state of California recognizes that the presence of toxic mold in a rental home or unit can lead to severe health problems in tenants, thereby violating the implied warranty of habitability. The implied warranty of habitability is a warranty implied by law in all residential leases that the premises should be fit for human habitation, and must remain that way throughout the duration of the lease.

California maintains a law called a written disclosure law for mold. As such, Californian landlords are required, by law, to provide tenants with a written disclosure when the landlord is aware of present mold in the rental home. A written disclosure is a document that is signed by both the landlord and the tenant. 

This California written disclosure law applies when there are large amounts of mold in a rental home, and that amount of mold exceeds safe exposure limits. Additionally, the law applies if the mold is a threat to the tenant’s health.

In California, a verbal warning from the landlord about the presence of mold in the dwelling is not sufficient; the mold disclosure must be made in writing. This law applies to both houses and apartment units. A written disclosure is also required if a landlord should reasonably know that mold is present, such as after a flood or water damage. This law also applies to mold that be invisible or hidden.

Is My Landlord Responsible for Mold Testing?

According to California law, landlords are not required to test your rental property for specific levels of mold. However, as of 2016, California law does require that landlords repair or remediate any mold found in the rental home. An example of this would be if your landlord sees any mold growth in your apartment, or smells the scent of mold, then your landlord must fix the mold as well as the problem causing the growth of the mold. This might require that your landlord dry any damp areas, repair water damaged areas, and remove or clean surfaces where mold has grown.

California does not require that a landlord provide you with a written disclosure if you moved into an apartment unit after mold growth had been previously and properly repaired. Further, it is important to note that no other landowner may be held liable for damage caused by “an Act of God.” However, a property owner such as a landlord may obtain natural disaster insurance in order to cover damages caused by these “Acts of God.” Mold damage is typically included in such insurance policies.

Do I Have a Responsibility as a Tenant to Keep My Home Free of Mold?

Simply put, yes. Tenants do have a responsibility to do what they can in order to keep the rental home free of mold. Additionally, tenants also have a responsibility to maintain clean and sanitary conditions in the house or apartment they are leasing. Examples of this may include:

  • Not allowing sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and other water sources to to overflow;
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  • Keeping windows closed during rainstorms; or
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  • Utilizing exhaust fans in order to prevent mold from forming and growing in humid bathrooms.

It is important that tenants report maintenance issues to their landlord, as soon as the issues become apparent. It is especially important to immediately report if there has been a leak or flood in the rental property. Damp conditions could lead to mold growth which will need to remedied as soon as possible.

If it is found that the tenant simply ignored the issue, or caused the leak/flood and didn’t want their landlord to know, then the tenant may be found responsible for the damage. 

How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix a Mold Problem?

After a tenant notifies their landlord that there is a mold problem, and that the condition is making the premises uninhabitable, the landlord must respond to the tenant and correct the problem within a reasonable time. 

Under California Code, a reasonable time is deemed to be within 30 days from the day that they received notification from the tenant. If the landlord does not respond, then a tenant may take action against the landlord. 

What Can I Do If My Landlord Does Not Remove the Mold in My Home?

As previously discussed, landlords have a charge to maintain safe and habitable conditions for their tenants, and mold is considered to be a threat to those conditions. As mentioned above, if you report mold issues to your landlord, and they do not make efforts to remediate the mold, you may have the right to:

  • Withhold paying rent until the mold has been properly repaired remediated by your landlord;
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  • Vacate the premises;
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  • Charge the landlord for potential cost to live in a motel or hotel room, or another unit, until you may safely return to your own home;
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  • Apply one month’s worth of rent towards hiring a mold remediator in order to fix the mold and damp conditions that caused the mold growth;
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  • Report the mold to the appropriate health code officials; or
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  • File a civil lawsuit against your landlord, for damages.

It is important to mitigate the damage caused by the mold. For example, if you discover the mold is caused by a leak, then do your best to stop the leak and report it to your landlord. If you found out that the mold is making you sick, then remove yourself from the environment until the mold problem is cleared.

However, if you are unable to leave for a valid reason or if you cannot stop the leak on your own, then you will most likely not be held liable. The duty to mitigate is only as reasonably required, so the tenant would not be expected to do anything that another reasonable person (in a similar situation) would not do.

Can I Sue My Landlord for Damages from the Mold in My Home?

In some situations, you may be able to sue your landlord in civil court for damages from the mold in your rental home. As previously mentioned, if there is mold that has not been remediated, your landlord may be held liable for your damages. They may also be held liable if they knew about leaks, flooded carpets, and ventilation and plumbing issues but fail to take action to prevent mold from developing.

As with other personal injury cases, you will need to prove duty, damage, and causation. Additionally, you will need to prove that you actually suffered damage as a result of the landlord’s failure to maintain habitable conditions. Further, if the mold damages your personal possessions, causing you to suffer property damage, you may have a claim for those damages as well.

In some cases, a tenant may have a mold related illness as a result of their landlord’s violation of California’s building code laws. Examples of mold related illnesses include:

  • Asthma;
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  • Coughing;
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  • Weezing;
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  • Various lung conditions;
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  • Throat, eye, or skin irritation; or
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  • Upper respiratory issues.

If your landlord is found liable for your mold related illnesses, you may be able to sue your landlord for your damages. These damages typically include the costs of medical expenses such as past or future medical bills related to the condition, as well as lost wages and other financial losses caused by the illness.

Do I Need an Attorney to Help Resolve My Mold Dispute with My California Landlord?

If there is mold in your rental home, you should immediately contact a skilled and knowledgeable real estate lawyer. They will be able to explain your rights and options, and help you file a lawsuit against your landlord in order to recover any available damages. Further, they will be able to advise as to when you are legally able to vacate the premises or withhold rent,  due to the mold growth.