Tenants blame health problems on mold
Rent It Right
October 8, 2010
Q. My tenants have alerted me to a water leak in their apartment. It must have been there for some time, because there’s a lot of mold under the sink. They’ve measured the amount of mold in the airspace, using a kit they bought, and are telling me that the levels are high and may have made them sick. What should I do?
A. The first thing you should do is to advise your tenants to keep the cupboard doors shut under the sink, to contain the air.
Next, you need to find the source of the water leak. You may have a burst or leaking pipe or pipe fitting; moisture under the floor from poor drainage; or a leak in your gutter system, allowing rainwater to penetrate the walls. You may need to tear out the wall or do other work to get your answer. If the wall is soaked with mold, it will definitely have to be replaced.
You mention that your tenants have “measured” the mold levels using a commercial product. You should know that the trustworthiness of such products is uncertain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “measurements of mold in air are not reliable or representative.” While there may be a potential health risk when mold is visible or can be smelled, it’s not possible to gauge that risk using kits like these. Moreover, individuals respond to mold differently: What may irritate one person might have no effect on another.
An allergic reaction to mold — including sneezing; throat, nose, and mouth irritation; nasal congestion; and red or watery eyes — is the most common response among people who are sensitive.
Of course, these problems can be caused by other factors, such as pollen and other environmental triggers (natural and man-made). For this reason, it is very difficult to know for sure whether the cause of an allergic response is the presence of mold (or more precisely, the toxins that some molds produce) or something else entirely.
Your tenants haven’t given you enough information to enable you to know whether their “sickness” is the result of the mold under the sink. They would need to consult with a doctor at the very least. Even then, the doctor would probably not be able to say with certainty whether the mold under the sink accounts for their issues.
That’s not the end of the story, however. Just because it’s difficult to pin some health problems on mold doesn’t mean you should not take your tenants’ report seriously. For good tenant relations alone, listen to them and consider underwriting a night or two at a local motel while your workers deal with the leak and remove the moldy building materials.
This will not only demonstrate your good will, it’s also good business sense. Tenants who feel they have a good-faith problem that the landlord is ignoring are the ones who march off to find lawyers.
Although it’s doubtful that these tenants could ultimately pin their health complaints on the mold, they can certainly make you spend time and money dealing with their claims (and your insurance company).