California landlords have certain legal (and many argue ethical) responsibilities to tenants in regard to mold infestations in a rental property.
Pre-Rental Mold Disclosure Requirement in California
The responsibility of a California landlord to a tenant in regard to toxic mold actually begins even before a lease agreement formally is created. A landlord has the legal duty to disclose any potentially hazardous condition in a rental property. A landlord is required to disclose the presence of toxic mold in a rental unit.
In addition, a pre-rental obligation of a landlord to a tenant associated with toxic mold is the obligation to provide a new renter with the official California handbook about mold and health. The handbook includes information about a person’s health and exposure to mold. It is also a resource for detecting and eliminating mold in a rental property.
Federal Law, Mold, and Landlord Responsibilities To a Tenant
At the present time, there is no specific federal law setting forth any specific duties of a landlord to a tenant when it comes to a matter involving toxic mold in a rental property. The reality is that beyond issues associated with discrimination, federal law doesn’t heavily regulate landlord and tenant relationships. Generally speaking, issues involving landlords, tenants, and rental property is a matter of state law as well as county or municipality ordinances.
California Law and a Specific Duty to Remediate Mold in a Rental Property
Many people are surprised to learn that California law doesn’t have any specific requirements governing what a landlord needs to do in the way of cleaning up and remediating a mold situation in a rental property. Despite the lack of specific state statutes dictating what a landlord must do in regard to a toxic mold situation in a rental property doesn’t mean that a tenant is without other avenues of recourse when this type of issue exists at a leased residential property.
Even if not specifically set out in a residential lease agreement, California has what is known as an “implied warranty of habitability.” An implied warranty of habitability is defined as:
An implied warranty of habitability is an unstated guarantee that a rental property meets basic living and safety standards before occupation and will continue to meet them for the duration of the occupancy. It only applies to leases or rentals for residential properties, not commercial properties, as tenants of commercial properties do not live in them. Even if the lease does not actually state this warranty in writing, it is implied in the lease.
California law governing a warranty of habitability includes specific requirements of what renders a rental property appropriately livable. The list is not exhaustive inasmuch as there can be situations – including the presence of toxic mold – that renders a rental property inhabitable. The specific requirements necessary to ensure the habitability of residential rental property include:
- Waterproofed and weather-protected roof and exterior walls
- Unbroken doors
- Unbroken windows
- Plumbing, gas, and electric facilities in good working order
- Water supply that provides hot and cold running water
- Functional sewage system
- Heating facilities in good working order
- Building and grounds free of garbage and pests
- Adequate number of garbage receptacles in good condition
- Well-maintained floors, stairways, and railings
- Locking mail receptacle for each unit
California courts have interpreted the warranty of habitability to mean that a tenant may be able to “withhold rent or repair the issue and deduct any mold-related costs from rent” to remediate a situation involving toxic rent in a leased residential unit. There are limitations to a tenant’s ability to take one or another of these courses of action.
First and foremost, a landlord doesn’t bear legal responsibility for a mold issue that was created by a tenant. In many situations, a mold situation in a rental residence can be traced to something a tenant has or hasn’t done at the property.
Local Ordinances, Mold, and a Specific Duty To Remediate Mold
Despite there being a lack of specific guidance regarding a landlord’s duty in regard to mold at a rental property, in California, municipal and county ordinances oftentimes more directly govern the issue. For example, there are local California communities that have ordinances on their books that declare toxic mold to be a public nuisance. As a consequence, these cities have adopted specific requirements and responsibilities for a landlord when a toxic mold situation exists at a rental property through no fault of a tenant.
Landlord Rights When Tenant Causes and Fails To Remediate Mold Growth
Mold has the capability for not only causing physical issues to those exposed to it but in some cases, mold is also capable of causing physical damage to a building in which it grows. This includes mold growing in a residential property. If a tenant causes and permits mold to grow in a rental residence, and if that mold growth results in damage to the physical premises itself, a landlord typically will have what is known as a “cause of action” against a tenant.
Mold damage permitted to occur by a tenant is not considered “normal wear and tear” within the terms and condition of a lease agreement. As a consequence, a landlord legally is able to withhold some or all of a deposit to offset the losses sustained as a result of the damage to the rental unit caused by mold a tenant failed to address in an appropriate manner.
If the security deposit isn’t enough to cover the costs associated with mold damage caused by a tenant at a rental property, a landlord has another option. A landlord can pursue a legal claim (and lawsuit) against a tenant for the full amount of the loss sustained as a result of the mold damage caused by a tenant.