By Kari Negri, Chief Executive Officer, SKY Properties, Inc.
Seasonally, the month of February is usually our wettest month of the year, but here in sunny Southern California, one may never know what we are going to get. Spring is a season favorite of many people but as we go into the warmer weather, we will likely still see some rain showers followed by heat. Do April showers bring May mold, or mold in June, July or August? Maybe so, but it can be avoided if water intrusion is addressed quickly and correctly.
What we need to know, as building owners and managers, about heat and water is that together they are the perfect combination to grow mold. As of January 1, 2016, mold is considered a substandard housing condition as defined in California Health and Safety Code Section 17920.3 Here is a general introduction, with some tips and recommended links that building owners might consider in regard to mold.
Know Your Responsibility. Before cutting open a wet ceiling or wall, please make sure that the person you have working for you is both Mold Certified and Lead Certified. If your building is built after 1978, it is YOUR responsibility to know if there is lead or asbestos present in your building before making repairs. Where asbestos is present, you will need to have a professional company remove it before proceeding with any repairs if it has been disturbed.
One of the big problems housing providers are constantly dealing with is leaking water. Whether it is from a pipe, an air conditioning unit, or the sky above, it is extremely important to address leaking water immediately after it happens. If water intrusion into a rental unit is ignored, and heat is present, there is potential for rapid mold growth. After discovery of mold, how it is handled is “key.” Most maintenance men think that just cutting out the wet patch will take care of it, and sometimes it will, but not putting up the proper barrier between the problem and the tenant’s belongings can be a huge mistake.
You never know what you will find when you cut into a wall or ceiling. So, putting up a proper barrier is equivalent to wearing safety glasses. You wear safety glasses, for example, just in case a nail comes rocketing towards your eye. Think of mold the same way. All precautions must be taken because you do not want a tenant’s belongings or your flooring covered in anything except plastic. As described in, “California Tenants – A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities,”
“Before renting a rental unit to a tenant, a landlord must make the unit fit to live in, or habitable. Additionally, while the unit is being rented/occupied, the landlord must repair problems that make the rental unit unfit to live in, or uninhabitable. The landlord has this duty to repair because of a California Supreme Court case, called Green vs. Superior Court, which held that all residential leases and rental agreements contain an implied warranty of habitability. Under the ‘implied warranty of habitability,’ the landlord is legally responsible for repairing conditions that seriously affect the rental unit’s habitability.”
The presence of mold can be considered a habitability issue and you do not want to exacerbate the situation by also exposing the tenant to lead paint which can be particularly dangerous for children who tend to put things in their mouths.
So, What is mold? The California Department of Public Health defines mold as, “Simple, microscopic organisms, present virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors.” A correct mold test will always include an outdoor sample as well as an indoor sample from the area in question. Mold growth on surfaces can often be seen as discoloration, frequently white, gray, brown, or black but also green and other colors. Molds, along with mushrooms and yeasts, are fungi and are necessary to break down dead plant and animal material and to recycle nutrients in the environment.”
What Are Signs of Mold? Molds often have an earthly discolored appearance. They appear in many colors, but are often white, gray, brown or black. Even if there is no earthy or moldy smell, if you see water stains (often water damage on ceilings, drywall, or wood), it is worth further inspection and remediation. It is also important to note that sometimes tenants (due to the saturation of misinformation online) may have mildew in their caulking and claim that it is “black mold.” Again, do not try to address the issue without having the proper training, or hiring someone that does, so that residents in the apartment as well as you, the landlord, are protected from a potential lawsuit.
Here are a few steps you can take to avoid mold:
- Visually assess issue, which can be done by maintenance staff and / or site manager. If there are already signs of mold, then it should be addressed by someone who is mold certified as the leak has likely been ongoing for some time and certain precautions need to be taken when addressing the issue.
- Moisture test the affected area. Have a plumber check for moisture intrusion, and active leaking.
- Repair leaks and / or address the sources of moisture intrusion if any are found.
- Remove wet or damaged ceilings or drywall immediately to avoid mold (remember to make sure that if your property is older than 1978, that you have asbestos and lead testing records or have them performed prior to any major repairs).
- Dry-out any any areas exhibiting elevated moisture with the proper equipment such fans, and dehumidifiers if you cannot remove the mold completely.
- Have a mold test performed by professional mold testers if you have unexplained high moisture readings or if you see any signs of mold form after a water intrusion.
Why Mold is Harmful. Molds may cause allergic reactions (if the exposed person is allergic to mold), inflammation and infection. Mold’s depth and severity on one’s health varies with each individual. For example, mold is more harmful to individuals with current health conditions, such as asthma or compromised immune systems (cancer patients, or other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV).
Keep Informed. California has released a great deal of information about mold and our laws are ever changing in this area, so it is necessary to keep up to date and stay tuned. There are also always new and emerging ways to treat mold quickly and effectively. Last but not least, a discussion with your insurance agent for these types of claims should also be in order so you know what you are up against.
Kari Negri is the Chief Executive Officer of Sky Property Management and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. Do you have a question for me? Please send your questions and comments to me at Kari@SKYprop.LA.
(Editor’s Note: Effective January 1, 2022, the booklet, “Information on Dampness and Mold for Renters in California” from the California Department of Public Health must be provided to renters for all new tenancies. This booklet is required by legislation that was passed in 2001 as Senate Bill 732, the “Toxic Mold Protection Act,” but not developed by the Department of Public Health until recently. It is available in both English and Spanish on the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles’s website, Form D.22, or can be found on the State of California’s website.)