Question: I have been renting my apartment for nearly three years now. My kitchen floor under the stove is coming up and there is mildew forming on the kitchen walls and bathroom, including the bathroom window inside the shower. While I have certainly seen it in my life, I am not a fan of mold, mildew or any other type mold or fungus. I am at a point to where I want to move just because of the disgust. I like the apartment though, but I cannot stand the mildew. I don’t know who to call on this issue. The apartments are very old and I don’t know my rights as a tenant. What do I do?
Property Manager Griswold replies:
This issue has received considerable media attention in the past few years, particularly since the Environmental Protection Agency issued its guidelines on mildew and mold in the spring of 2001. You should immediately notify the management company and the landlord in writing and ask them to immediately address this issue, as mildew or mold can be a serious health issue for certain persons, particularly children, the elderly or those with immune system issues. Mildew or mold can and do occur naturally, but one factor is they require moisture and a food source to develop. Therefore, mildew or mold and can be caused as a result of living conditions inside your unit, such as a lack of ventilation, hot steamy showers, or other activities that increase the overall humidity in your rental unit. These conditions can also be the result of water intrusion or leaking pipes. The minimization of mildew or mold is a joint effort between the landlord and the occupants. The landlord needs to make sure that there are no latent sources of water intrusion, while the occupants need to routinely maintain and clean all surfaces with appropriate cleaning products plus avoid activities that can humidity and thus increase the likelihood of mildew or mold developing.
For example, it is important to minimize moisture in the air by running the fan or opening a window when taking hot showers. If you see condensation beginning to form on windows or walls be sure to regularly air out your rental unit by opening windows or doors during the day, use the fan in your heating or cooling systems or even portable fans to create air circulation. Another common cause of mildew and mold in rental units can be the unauthorized installation of a washer and/or dryer in a rental unit that was not designed for such use and the equipment is not properly vented. Always contact your landlord in writing immediately about any condition in your rental unit that is of concern and be sure to do what you can to avoid the reoccurrence of the mildew or mold. If the landlord fails to adequately address the issue in a timely manner you should immediately contact your local code enforcement or housing inspection department and ask them to investigate and notify you and the owner of their findings in writing. Further, you should contact your health care provider if you have any symptoms that you attribute to the mildew and mold in your unit to make sure that you are not sensitive to these conditions. Also, be sure to notify the landlord about your kitchen floor so he/she can make the necessary repair or replacement. Landlords are not required to upgrade for cosmetic reasons, but your floor sounds like it is more of a health-and-safety issue, which must be addressed by the landlord.
Question: I live in a rental unit managed by a large realty company. The flat is in a very desirable location and I have lived there for 15 years. I have been an excellent tenant – always pay rent on time, no problems, etc. I am pregnant and was wondering if I can be evicted for having the baby with me in the apartment if it’s a one-tenant lease. Is there any protection for single parents in this circumstance?
Tenant’s attorney Kellman replies:
You are protected by federal and state fair-housing laws. It is illegal to discriminate based on familial status. These fair-housing laws are meant to specifically protect families with a child or children. When you are blessed with the new baby, you will be a family with a child and absolutely should be protected. These laws are designed to prevent landlords from evicting, threatening to evict, refusing to rent, or make it uncomfortable for families with children so they will choose to live elsewhere. One method of trying to keep children out of a complex is to restrict the unit to one person. Even though you are renting with a “one-tenant lease,” you may have more occupants living there beside yourself when they are your children. The guidelines generally accepted for valid occupancy limitations are a minimum of two persons per bedroom plus one. Therefore, in a one-bedroom apartment, for example, there can be three persons living there. If your landlord tries to evict you solely based on having a baby, go directly to your local fair-housing office or, if an eviction action is filed, seek legal assistance right away. Not only could your landlord lose the eviction case, but you may be entitled to monetary damages for such actions.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.
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