When you search for a rental house or apartment, you generally look for a place that's affordable, in decent shape, close to work, and suitable to your personal needs. One of the last questions on your mind is whether a given property is contaminated with toxic black mold. This type of mold technically goes by the name Stachybotrys chartarum and can cause serious health problems after periods of exposure, including respiratory problems, internal organ damage, mental impairment, nausea, and skin inflammation. Mold also can cause irreparable property damage. And since black mold thrives in dark places lacking ventilation, it usually goes unseen until it's too late.
But if you have reason to believe you're rental is contaminated, suing your landlord for black mold is one way to get compensated for your injuries. The following information will help you understand your rights and legal options.
Black Mold and Your Landlord's Responsibilities
Landlords are required by law to provide proper living conditions for their tenants, free from health or safety hazards, often referred to as an "implied warranty of habitability." The standard for habitability is generally defined as the minimum required by your local jurisdiction's building code, which addresses the health and safety concerns of tenants. While certain minor problems such as drippy faucets are not considered crucial to habitability, toxic mold certainly is.
Since the landlord-tenant relationship is legally defined through contract (the lease agreement), contractual provisions addressing things like plumbing or ventilation defects -- which may contribute to mold growth -- would be enforceable. So if the contract states that the landlord is responsible for promptly fixing all plumbing problems, but a leaky pipe eventually leads to black mold growth, failure to fix the problem could lead to a breach of contract lawsuit.
Discovering Black Mold in Your Rental: First Steps
Suing your landlord for black mold should not be the first response upon discovering it in your rental, provided you haven't suffered any health problems from being exposed. As with most landlord-tenant disputes, you should contact the landlord immediately upon discovering mold (preferably in writing, in order to establish a record). The landlord is legally responsible for removing the mold and reimbursing you for any additional costs you have sustained. Even if you don't suffer any injuries, a landlord's failure to maintain a mold-free environment violates the implied warranty of habitability.
If the landlord fully takes care of a mold issue but you later exhibit health problems that you suspect were caused by the earlier mold exposure, you still may claim damages. If your landlord contradicts your concerns that your rental unit is contaminated with black mold, it's up to you to pay for an inspection and testing; but landlords who refuse to even consider the presence of toxic mold in such instances may open themselves up to increased liability.
Suing Your Landlord for Black Mold
If push comes to shove, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit against your landlord. Depending on the extent of your mold-related illness and/or property losses, and your jurisdiction's dollar amount limits on claims, you may be able to resolve the issue in small claims court. Small claims courts generally require the parties to represent themselves and have claim limits in the $3,000 to $10,000 range, but are regulated at the state level.
If the dollar amount is higher than your state's small claims limit, which may be the case if your illness requires extensive treatment (including lost wages in addition to medical costs), you may need to consider working with an attorney to file a more formal injury claim.
Every case is different, but damages for black mold contamination may include the following:
Black Mold In Your Rental? Consider Meeting with an Attorney Today
It may seem harmless, but certain types of mold can permanently destroy property and cause serious and sometimes lasting health problems. If you have suffered injuries that you believe are the result of this particularly dangerous type of fungus, you may need to sue your landlord for black mold. Find a toxic mold attorney in your area to learn more about your rights and legal options.