Q: My daughter rented an apartment where the landlord pays the utilities. It has no air conditioning and she’s not allowed to get a portable air conditioner. Is it legal to stipulate this? It can get quite warm in her apartment. –Cathy C.

A: As odd as it may seem, it’s not illegal for a landlord to prohibit the installation of a portable air conditioner, as long as this policy is announced in the lease or rental agreement. Landlords typically don’t like portable units for two reasons: They are unsightly, ruin "curb appeal," and they substantially add to the cost of utilities, which naturally concerns landlords who pays the bills.

The only limit on a rule of this type is a reality check: In areas where temperatures are high in the summer, few tenants will agree to rent an apartment knowing that they cannot escape the heat by buying a portable unit. In other words, the market for such an apartment should be rather small, and when the landlord discovers that it’s hard to find a tenant willing to agree to such a lease clause, he might change his mind. In your daughter’s case, if she knew about the rule but signed a lease incorporating it anyway, she’s bound by that clause.

Your daughter might try approaching the landlord to see if they can work out a compromise. If they can agree that the conditioner is likely to increase the utility bill by a certain amount during specified months, your daughter could offer to pay that sum. This will address any financial concerns the landlord might have, though it won’t help if the objection is based on aesthetics.

Q: I’ve lived in my apartment for five years now. I’ve seen mold here and there throughout the years, but just bleached the area and forgot about it. This past week I found a huge spot behind a bedroom door, which just happens to be directly on the other side of the wall of where I’ve found mold on the living room wall. A few days later, I found some on another living room wall. I asked my landlord to have someone test it since it was a dark brown/black in color, and I’m afraid it might be coming from within the walls. Yesterday, he told me that he plans to paint both rooms with paint that’s supposed to prevent mold from growing on it.

Is this a reasonable solution? None of my neighbors have a mold problem. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of moisture in the air. Besides, if it’s not coming from within the walls, wouldn’t it grow on furniture too? Would it be reasonable for me to call the health department or just wait it out? –Lana D.

A: Your landlord is taking a very shortsighted approach to this problem. From your description, it’s likely that water from a leaky pipe, window, or roof is finding its way down the inside of the wall, seeping out and coincidentally encountering mold spores (which are prevalent in the air around us). When mold spores find a renewing source of moisture, and particularly a little warmth, they set up house and you see the results.

As you can see, applying paint to the exterior of the wall won’t address the real problem: the plumbing, roof or window leak that is seeping out of both sides of the wall. Given the appearance of another spot, you may be dealing with multiple leaks. These will continue to cause problems (more mold, maybe somewhere else). The sensible response is to get a good contractor in there to evaluate the situation and look for the leak.

You can certainly call the local health department and explain your situation. There’s no telling whether they will come out and test for you, or even contact your landlord — it depends entirely on whether they are tasked to respond to mold problems by statute (some ordinances classify mold as a nuisance) or by practice. It won’t hurt to try.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord’s Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant’s Legal Guide." She can be reached at janet@inman.com.


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