A landlord owes certain duties to their tenants in addition to those in the lease agreement or in the absence of a lease agreement. Common examples of landlord duties include:
- Collecting rent and any applicable penalties;
- Providing adequate notice of late rent, an eviction, or showing the property;
- Respecting the privacy of all tenants;
- Maintaining all units in a habitable condition.
California recognizes that toxic mold in a rental unit or home may lead to severe health problems for the tenants, violating the implied warranty of habitability. The implied warranty of habitability is a warranty that is implied by law in every residential lease that the premises must be fit for human habitation and has to remain that way through the duration of the lease.
California laws include a written disclosure law for mold. Because of this, California landlords are required, by law, to provide tenants with written disclosures when a landlord is aware of present mold in the rental unit.
Written disclosures are documents that are signed by both landlords and tenants. The California disclosure law applies when there is a large amount of mold in a rental unit that exceeds safe exposure limits.
In addition, the law applies if the mold threatens the health of the tenant. In the State of California, a verbal warning from a landlord regarding the presence of mold in a dwelling is not sufficient.
The mold disclosure has to be made in writing. This applies to apartment units as well as houses.
Written disclosures are also required in situations where a landlord should reasonably be aware that mold is present, for example, after a flood or water damage. In addition, this law applies to mold that may not be visible.
Is My Landlord Responsible for Mold Testing?
Under mold laws in California, a landlord is not required to test a rental property for specific levels of mold. As of 2016, however, California law requires that a landlord repair or remediate any mold that is found in the rental home.
One example of this would be if a landlord observes any mold growth in the unit or smells mold, they are required to fix the mold as well as whatever problem is causing the growth of the mold. This may require the landlord to dry any wet areas, repair water-damaged areas, and remove or clean surfaces where mold has grown.
California laws do not require that landlords provide a written disclosure if a tenant moved into a unit after mold growth had been previously properly repaired. In addition, it is important to note that no other landowners can be held liable for damages that are caused by an Act of God.
A property owner or landlord may obtain natural disaster insurance to cover damages that are caused by Acts of God. Typically, mold damage is included in these types of policies.
How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix a Mold Problem?
Once a tenant notifies a landlord that there is a mold issue that makes the premises uninhabitable, the landlord is required to respond to the tenant and correct the issue within a reasonable time. Under the California Code, a reasonable time is defined as within 30 days from the day the landlord received notice from the tenant.
If a landlord does not respond, a tenant may take action against their landlord. If an individual is facing these issues, they should consult with a local California attorney.
Do I Have a Responsibility as a Tenant to Keep My Home Free of Mold?
If an individual is a tenant, they have a responsibility to do what they can to keep the unit free from mold. In addition, a tenant has a responsibility to maintain clean and sanitary conditions in the unit they are leasing, which may include:
- Not allowing sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and other water sources to overflow;
- Keeping windows closed during rainstorms;
- Using exhaust fans to prevent mold from forming and growing in bathrooms.
It is also important for a tenant to report any maintenance issues to their landlord as soon as they arise. This is especially important if a leak or flood has occurred in the unit.
Damp or wet conditions can lead to mold growth and should be remedied as soon as possible. If it is determined that the tenant ignored the issue or caused a leak or flood and did not want to inform the landlord, the tenant may be found responsible for the damage that occurred.
What Can I Do if My Landlord Does Not Remove the Mold in My Home?
As noted above, landlords are required to maintain safe and habitable conditions for their tenants. If a tenant reports mold issues to their landlord and the landlord does not make an effort to remediate the mold, the tenant may have the right to:
- Withhold paying rent until the mold has been properly repaired and remediated by the landlord;
- Vacate the premises;
- Charge the landlord for the potential cost of living in a motel room, hotel room, or another unit until the tenant can safely return to their own home;
- Apply one month’s rent towards hiring a mold remediator to fix the mold issue and damp condition that caused the mold growth;
- Report the mold to an appropriate health code official; or
- File a civil lawsuit against the landlord for damages.
It is important for the tenant to mitigate the damage that is caused by the mold. For example, if the tenant discovers that a leak caused the mold, they should do their best to stop the leak and report it to the landlord.
If a tenant determines that the mold is making them sick, they should remove themselves from the environment until the mold issue is remedied. If the tenant cannot leave for a valid reason or if they cannot stop the leak, they will most likely not be held liable.
The duty to mitigate is only as reasonably required, which means that 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 certain situations, a tenant may be able to sue their landlord in civil court for damages from the mold in their rental unit. As noted above, if mold is present that has not been remediated, the landlord may be held liable for damages.
The landlord may also be held liable if they were aware of leaks, flooded carpets, and any ventilation and plumbing issues but failed to take action to prevent mold from developing. Similar to other personal injury cases, the tenant will need to prove:
In addition, the tenant will have to prove that they actually suffered damages as a result of the failure of the landlord to maintain habitable conditions. The mold may damage the tenant’s personal possessions, causing them to suffer property damage. If this is the case, they may have a claim for those damages as well.
In certain situations, a tenant may have a mold-related illness as a result of the landlord’s violation of California’s building code laws. Examples of mold-related illnesses may include, but may not be limited to:
- Various lung conditions;
- Throat, eye, or skin irritation;
- Upper respiratory issues.
Damages in these cases usually 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 that were caused by the illness.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on Mold Cases?
In the State of California, the statute of limitations for mold cases is the same as other types of personal injury cases. The statute of limitations is two years.
Do I Need an Attorney to Help Resolve My Mold Dispute With My California Landlord?
If you have mold in your rental unit, you should consult with a California landlord-tenant lawyer as soon as you can. Your lawyer can explain your rights and your legal options.
If necessary, your lawyer will help you file a lawsuit against your landlord for damages caused by the mold. In addition, your attorney can advise you whether you are legally able to vacate the premises or withhold rent due to the mold growth.