Tenant complaints about mold are among the most feared by landlords. The four letter word “MOLD” instinctively invokes fears of million dollar lawsuits, deadly illness, and expensive renovations. Mold in rental housing can be a real danger and should be taken seriously by landlords and tenants. However, some tenants will make false or exaggerated claims of mold for the sole purpose of delaying an otherwise lawful eviction.
In response, in a very rare move, the California legislature enacted a law favorable to landlords, SB 655 & Civil Code 1941.7. The new law describes what landlords and tenants are obligated to do when mold exists, and when the presence of mold renders housing uninhabitable.
First, the mold growth must be “visible”. While this may seem like a common sense requirement, tenants in the past have solely relied upon questionable air tests to claim that dangerous levels of non-visible mold exist.
Second, a health and safety or building official must determine that (a) mold actually exists and (b) that the mold endangers the health of the occupants. This requires that a city or county official be notified of the perceived problem and that they independently determine that mold exists.
Third, landlords are not responsible for mold that is minor or found in areas that accumulate moisture as a part of their properly functioning and intended use. For example, mold that exists in showers, bathrooms, or window sills would not render housing “uninhabitable”.
Fourth, the landlord is not responsible if the existence of mold is caused by a tenant failure to clean or use household appliances, like using a bathroom vent, opening a bathroom window, or using a chemical like bleach to kill the mold.
Lastly, the tenant must allow access to the landlord to clean up any reported mold. Tenants cannot claim that mold exists in their rental property and then refuse the landlord entry to fix it.
The new law still prohibits slumlords from renting fundamentally disgusting, uninhabitable housing. A rental property with a genuine mold problem could still render it uninhabitable and expose landlords to a personal injury lawsuit. Tenants still have a plethora of rights that make any eviction very tricky and highly technical. However, the guidance provided by the new law should prevent tenants from making a last minute, bad faith complaint about mold simply to frustrate a otherwise lawful eviction.
Finally some good news for California landlords!
Are you a Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley, or Watsonville landlord with a mold problem? Call the Law Office of Brian Mathias. www.BrianMathiasLaw.com
Ready to stand up for your rights?