In 2023, if residential landlords (and even commercial renters) are questioned about their biggest potential legal liability, they will nearly always respond with tenants who fail to honor their lease commitments. In other words, these property owners are nearly uniform in their belief that their greatest liability is the potential to lose money when tenants do not pay rent as required or appropriately honor other components of a legally appropriate lease agreement.
Panelists at the recent NARPM webinar explained that for many residential landlords and more than a few commercial ones, the potential risk of losing money because of violations of lease agreements is no longer the greatest liability they face in the operation of their business enterprises. Rather, in recent times, it is becoming clear that landlords are facing greater potential legal liability through failing to appropriately remediate water damage in a timely manner and protect their properties and tenants from the hazards presented by mold.
Whether or not the panelists are perfectly on target when it comes to liability for the aftereffects of water damage, particularly mold infestation, they do make a valid point. Residential and commercial landlords across the state of California do face significant financial liability if they fail to properly prevent water damage associated with maintenance, if they fail to appropriately remediate water damage arising from an emergency situation, and if they fail to adequately remediate mold in premises they own.
The NARPM webinar focused on two types of situations in which residential and commercial landlords face what potentially can be significant legal and financial liability associated with water damage and mold infestation. The first situation is one in which water issues and mold are the result of a lack of proper maintenance. The second situation is water issues and mold arising from an emergency event.
Identify Mold Caused by Lack of Proper Maintenance to Reduce Liability
When it comes to water damage and mold remediation, it is crucial to identify situations in which mold arises from situations involving a lack of proper maintenance in order to reduce liability. This includes reducing liability to tenants at residential rental properties but also to customers and clients that patronize commercial establishments. There are a pair of primary overarching reasons why it is important to identify the lack of proper maintenance as the underlying cause of water damage and mold infestation.
- First, identifying improper maintenance as the cause of water damage and associated mold is vital to be able to pinpoint precisely what is lacking. Only by identifying what is lacking in regard to maintenance is it possible to address the underlying issue and more effectively eliminate mold and prevent mold growth in the future.
- Second, understanding the underlying cause of mold growth in a residence or place of business is also important when it comes to the propriety of pursuing an insurance claim. The bottom line is that generally speaking, mold damage that is the result of inadequate maintenance will not be covered by homeowner’s or business insurance. Mold damage that arises from a sudden, immediate, accidental event like a malfunctioning but properly maintained pipe may be compensable via a homeowner’s or business insurance policy.
Mold caused by lack of proper maintenance is a common problem that many home and business owners in California and elsewhere face. It can be harmful to health and can cause serious damage to property. We discuss six primary factors associated with mold caused by lack of proper maintenance:
- Water leaks
- Poor ventilation
- Dirty air ducts
- General lack of proper maintenance
High humidity levels can lead to mold growth. When the air is humid, it becomes an ideal breeding ground for mold. It is important to keep the humidity levels in your home below 60 percent. You can use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air.
Condensation occurs when warm air meets a cold surface. This can happen on windows, walls, and ceilings. Condensation can create an environment for mold growth. To prevent condensation, you can use insulation or increase ventilation in your home.
Water leaks can lead to mold growth. If you have a leaky pipe or roof, it is important to fix it as soon as possible. Any standing water or moisture can lead to mold growth. Water damage creates a perfect environment for mold to grow. When water sits for too long, it creates a breeding ground for mold growth.
Poor ventilation can lead to mold growth. It is important to have proper ventilation in your home, especially in areas that produce moisture like the bathroom and kitchen. You can use exhaust fans to remove moisture from the air. Proper ventilation can help reduce mold growth by keeping the air circulating and preventing moisture from accumulating.
Dirty Air Ducts
Dirty air ducts can lead to mold growth. Mold can grow in the dust and debris that accumulates in your air ducts. It is important to have your air ducts cleaned regularly to prevent mold growth. Dirty air ducts can also lead to poor indoor air quality, which can be harmful to your health.
General Lack of Proper Maintenance
Lack of maintenance can lead to mold growth. It is important to maintain your home and fix any issues as soon as they arise. Regular cleaning and maintenance can prevent mold growth. It is important to check for mold growth regularly, especially in areas that are prone to moisture like the bathroom or basement.
Liability Reduction: Strategies to Take to Remediate Water Damage and Prevent Mold
Water damage is a common problem that many homeowners face. It can be caused by various sources such as heavy rainfall, burst pipes, and roof leaks. Water damage can lead to serious consequences such as structural damage to your home and mold growth. Mold can be a health hazard and can cause respiratory problems, headaches, and other health issues. Therefore, it is essential to take immediate action when you experience water damage to prevent further damage and protect your health.
The 10 immediate tactics that must be initiated are:
- Identify the source of water damage
- Turn off water supply
- Turn off electricity
- Rapidly remove standing water
- Dry affected area
- Remove wet materials
- Clean and disinfect affected areas
- Use antimicrobial products
- Monitor affected areas
- Address any underlying issues
Identify the Source of Water Damage
The first step is to identify the source of the water damage. This could be a leaking roof, burst pipe, or a malfunctioning appliance. Once you have identified the source, you can address it and prevent further water damage.
Turn Off the Water Supply
If the water damage is caused by a burst pipe or a malfunctioning appliance, turn off the water supply to prevent further damage. It’s important to do this as soon as possible to prevent additional flooding and water damage.
Turn Off Electricity
If you have water damage in your home, turn off the electricity to prevent electrocution. Water and electricity are a dangerous combination, so it’s important to turn off the power to the affected area to avoid any accidents.
Rapidly Remove Standing Water
Using a wet vacuum or pump, remove any standing water from the affected area. Standing water can cause additional damage and promote mold growth, so it’s important to remove it as quickly as possible.
Dry Affected Areas
Use fans, dehumidifiers, and open windows to dry the affected area. This will help prevent mold growth. Make sure to thoroughly dry the area, including any walls or floors that may have been affected.
Remove Wet Materials
Remove any wet materials, including carpets, furniture, and drywall. These materials can harbor mold growth and need to be removed to prevent further damage and health hazards.
Clean and Disinfect the Area
Clean and disinfect the affected area to eliminate any mold spores that may be present. Use a solution of water and bleach or other disinfectants to ensure that the area is thoroughly cleaned.
Use Antimicrobial Products
Use antimicrobial products on the affected area to prevent mold growth. There are many different products available that can help prevent mold growth, including sprays and paints.
Monitor Affected Areas
Monitor the affected area for any signs of mold growth in the days following the remediation process. If you notice any signs of mold growth, take immediate action to address it before it becomes a more serious problem.
Address Any Underlying Issues
Finally, address any underlying issues that may have caused the water damage. This could include fixing a leaky roof or repairing a malfunctioning appliance. It’s important to address these issues to prevent future water damage and mold growth.
Liability of Property Owners to Tenants for Mold-Related Breach of Warranty of Habitability
California law has what is known as a warranty of habitability in a landlord and tenant relationship. According to this legal doctrine, a California landlord has the legal obligation to ensure that the rental property is safe and livable. When it comes to water damage and mold, the failure of a landlord to properly remediate these types of situations can result in a breach of the warranty of habitability. A tenant may be in a position to take legal action against a property owner or landlord for violating a warranty of habitability – a legal action that can have extremely serious and financially significant consequences for a property owner.
Overview of California Warranty of Habitability
The warranty of habitability is a legal obligation of the landlord to ensure that the rental property is safe and livable. This means that the property must have basic necessities like running water, heat, and electricity. The landlord must also ensure that the property is free from health hazards such as mold, pests, and toxic substances.
Examples of a Violation of the Warranty of Habitability
Some examples of a violation of the warranty of habitability include:
- Presence of pests
- Other hazardous conditions that could lead to illness or injury
Other examples include a lack of heating or air conditioning, a lack of hot water, and malfunctioning electrical or plumbing systems.
When a Landlord May Be Held Responsible for Violation of Warranty of Habitability
A landlord can be held responsible for a violation of the warranty of habitability in certain situations. If a tenant reports a problem to a landlord and they fail to make the necessary repairs, a tenant may be able to take legal action. Depending on the severity of the violation, you may be entitled to compensation or even termination of your lease. A commonplace example is a situation in which a landlord or property owner fails to properly remediate a mold infestation.
How Is a Violation of the Warranty of Habitability Reported
A complaint or report about a serious condition at the premises, including mold infestation, should be made to the landlord by the tenant in writing. A tenant should keep a copy of the report for his or her records. It is important to be specific and describe the problem in detail. A landlord should give a landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem before taking further action.
What Happens if the Landlord Does Not Respond and Take Appropriate Action
If a landlord does not respond to a request or report, a tenant can then be placed in a position where he or she can take legal action. This may involve filing a lawsuit or contacting a housing authority. It is important to keep records of all communication with a landlord and any attempts to resolve the issue. If a landlord violates the warranty of habitability, they may be required to make repairs or provide compensation to the tenant. In some cases, the tenant may be able to break the lease without penalty. However, the consequences will depend on the severity of the violation and the specific laws in your state or jurisdiction.
Liability of Property Owners for Tenant Health Risks Associated With Mold
Not only do residential and commercial landlords face liability issues associated with what legally is known as a diminution of value of rented property because of water damage and mold issues, they may also be legally responsible for health problems experienced by tenants as well as customers or clients that spend time in contaminated commercial property.
There are 10 more commonplace health issues experienced by individuals exposed to mold. We discuss each of these, in turn, to make the expanse of potential liability in this regard as clear and understandable as possible.
- Respiratory infections
- Cognitive impairment
- Irritation of eyes, nose, and throat
- Skin irritation
- Digestive problems
- Immune system suppression
Mold can cause allergic reactions, including sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rashes. If you already have an allergy, exposure to mold can worsen your symptoms.
Mold exposure can trigger asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. If you have asthma, mold exposure can make your symptoms worse and lead to asthma attacks.
Exposure to mold can increase the risk of respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Mold spores can irritate your lungs and make it easier for bacteria and viruses to cause an infection.
Mold exposure can cause headaches and migraines. If you have a sensitivity to mold, exposure can trigger headaches and make them more severe.
Mold exposure can cause fatigue, weakness, and lethargy. Exposure to mold can make you feel tired and drained, even if you’ve had enough sleep.
Exposure to mold can cause cognitive impairment, such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating. Mold exposure can affect your brain function and make it harder to think clearly and remember things.
Irritation of Eyes, Nose, and Throat
Mold exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, including redness, itching, and soreness. If you’re exposed to mold, you may notice that your eyes, nose, and throat feel irritated and uncomfortable.
Exposure to mold can cause skin irritation, including rashes and hives. If you have a sensitivity to mold, exposure can cause a skin reaction.
Mold exposure can cause digestive problems, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Exposure to mold can affect your digestive system and cause stomach upset.
Immune System Suppression
Exposure to mold can suppress the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections and illnesses. If you’re exposed to mold, you may be more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
Types of Water Causing Damage Enhancing Need for Professional Remediation
Three types of water can potentially be involved in damaging property. The three different types of water that can cause damage to a residential or commercial property are:
- Potable water
- Gray water
- Black water
Potable water is water that is safe for consumption by humans and animals. It is treated and disinfected to remove harmful contaminants and pathogens that may cause illness or disease. Potable water can be found in our homes, schools, workplaces, and public places, such as parks and restaurants. It is also the type of water that we purchase in bottled form.
Gray water is wastewater that comes from non-toilet plumbing fixtures such as sinks, showers, and washing machines. It may contain traces of dirt, soap, and other household chemicals, but it is generally free of fecal matter and urine. Gray water can be reused for some purposes, such as watering plants or flushing toilets, but it should not be consumed or used for cooking.
Black water is wastewater that comes from toilets and contains fecal matter and urine. It may also contain other bodily fluids and pharmaceuticals. Black water is highly contaminated and must be treated and disinfected before being discharged into the environment. It should never be used for any purpose other than sanitation.
When Is Retaining a Water Damage and Mold Removal Professional Necessary?
The NAPRM webinar panel was very blunt about when remediation professionals should be retained to address water damage and mold removal in order to protect property owners from liability. Panelists made it clear that property owners should nearly always retain the services of a remediation professional to address water damage and mold removal. Moreover, panelists made it clear that retaining a remediation professional should be immediate.
The panel identified a number of key benefits associated with limiting liability to engaging a remediation professional promptly. These are:
- Identification of mold species
- Safe removal of mold
- Prevention of future mold growth
- Protection of health
- Protection of property
- Compliance with regulations
Identification of Mold Species
A professional mold remediation team can accurately identify the type of mold in your building. This is crucial because different types of mold require different remediation methods. A professional can also identify the source of the mold, which is vital in preventing future mold growth.
Safe Removal of Mold
Mold remediation professionals use specialized equipment and techniques to safely remove mold from your building. Attempting to remove mold on your own can be dangerous and can spread mold spores throughout your building.
Prevention of Future Mold Growth
Professional mold remediation teams can identify the cause of mold growth and provide solutions to prevent future mold growth. This can include fixing leaks, improving ventilation, and reducing moisture levels.
Protection of Health
Mold can cause serious health problems, such as respiratory issues, skin irritation, and allergic reactions. Professional mold remediation can protect your health by removing all traces of mold from your building.
Protection of Property
Mold can cause significant damage to your property, including the structure of your building and your personal belongings. Professional mold remediation can prevent further damage and protect your property from future mold growth.
Compliance With Regulations
Mold remediation professionals are familiar with regulations related to mold removal and remediation. They can ensure that all necessary steps are taken to comply with these regulations.