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LAist: What To Do If You Find Mold In Your Home — Including Your Rights As A Renter

Read the LAist article here.

Article features Matthew Calcanas, Bet Tzedek Eviction Defense Project (EDP) Attorney

 

It’s been a wet 2023 in the L.A. area — rain levels are 200% higher than usual, according to the National Weather Service.

“Most of the county is 12 to 16 inches above normal,” said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the federal agency.

While all this extra moisture in the air may have obvious effects — landslides, flooding, and unbelievable snowfall — there are other harder to spot consequences creeping and crawling up and inside walls throughout L.A.

That’s right, it’s everyone’s favorite pest: mold.

“There’s been a huge increase in mold calls to our firm, probably a tripling. We’re getting about 50 calls a week,” said Joseph Tobener, an attorney who represents tenants in L.A. and across California.

If you’re reading this — mold may have paid you a visit. Here’s a guide on what to do if you spot water-related issues inside your home.

What is mold?

Mold is a type of fungi. It’s not the cute mushrooms you might think of when you hear the term “fungi,” but it’s a fungal growth nevertheless. Mold varies in color — white, gray, brown, black and sometimes green, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Why do I have mold?

Mold needs three things to grow: water, air and material to grow on, according to Zoiya Tate, operations manager at the restoration company 770 Water Damage in Chatsworth. So if a part of your house gets wet and never dries out, odds are mold will grow.

Causes of indoor mold growth include flooding, plumbing leaks, water overflowing from the sink, humidifiers and even open windows on a rainy day.

Mold can be either visible or invisible to the person whose home it is growing in — that’s because it can grow on the inside of your walls, not just the outside. And it develops fast — when an area gets wet, mold can start to grow within 24 to 48 hours.

If you’ve noticed any sort of leak, whether it be from rain, plumbing or something else, according to Tate, you should get your home inspected for mold. Mold loves to grow on drywall installation and you may not always see it there.

What are my renter rights under state and local laws?

Matthew Calcanas, an attorney at the nonprofit law firm Bet Tzedek in L.A., explained that mold violates a legal rule known as the implied warranty of habitability — a major area of state law that basically says that a landlord must keep a tenant’s unit habitable. This includes things like general repairs and health-related issues like mold.

Calcanas recommends the following steps to renters who suspect they may have a mold issue:

  1. Tell your landlord as soon as you notice it, preferably in writing. He also recommends looking at your lease agreement first because some landlords specifically indicate how they want complaints to be made.
  2. If your landlord does not take the proper steps to remove the mold, call the City of Los Angeles Housing Department (866-557-7368), as well as the L.A. County Department of Public Health (1-888-700-9995) and report the issue. The departments may send an inspector who can issue a report confirming if mold is present that can be provided to your landlord. In some cases, the city of L.A. may issue a notice to comply to your landlord.
  3. If the landlord still doesn’t comply, consider reaching out to an attorney for legal advice. Calcanas suggests finding an attorney who specializes in tenant rights.

Other tips from Calcanas:

  • State law protects tenants from landlord retaliation. A landlord cannot evict a tenant for complaining — to them, or to the authorities.
  • A tenant has the right to do a repair and deduct — meaning that if their landlord does not take action to fix a serious habitability issue, they can pay for the repair themselves and then deduct it from that month’s rent. However, Calcanas warns that this process should be used very cautiously. It can increase your risk of receiving an eviction notice and lead to legal disputes. Seek legal advice if you have questions.
  • When dealing with a mold issue, be persistent with your landlord.

“I speak from experience when I say often the landlords will just go in and paint over it. But that’s ineffective,” Calcanas said. “So, the reality is that often it does take a lot of pressure.”

He suggests letting your landlord know if the mold returns, or is a consistent problem, and involving city and county authorities to try and resolve the problem.

View of the downtown Los Angeles skyline from behind a rain-soaked car windshield.
A rainy view of the DTLA skyline from a residential street in Chinatown.
(Alborz Kamalizad / LAist)

The health risks of living with mold

When mold forms, it releases spores that are airborne and can be inhaled, according to the California Department of Public Health. When this happens, it can cause irritation, especially if the person is allergic to it. On rare occasions, mold can also cause infection. Some people are more sensitive to mold than others, but no matter what, its effect on your health can be serious.

If you are having any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign that you’ve been exposed to mold: congestion, upper or lower respiratory symptoms, eye or skin irritation, respiratory infection such as acute bronchitis, or asthma (either new asthma or more frequent asthma attacks for those who already have it).

How to prevent mold in the first place

The CDC suggests the following steps to prevent the growth of mold:

  • Use a dehumidifier in order to keep your home’s humidity levels low.
  • Use exhaust fans to ventilate your home.
  • If there are any leaks in your home from rain or plumbing, fix them right away.
  • Avoid overflows from sinks, laundry machines, toilets, bathtubs, etc. If your home floods in any way, dry it up immediately.

I rent outside of L.A. – how should I deal with mold?

LAist spoke to officials in several cities throughout L.A. and Orange counties. If you’ve tried addressing the issue directly with your landlord and still need help, here’s a list of resources.

Burbank 

  • Who to call: L.A. County Health Department Burbank Office, 818-557-4187
  • Notes: The issue of mold is not something that the city of Burbank directly handles, according to the Burbank Housing Authority. Burbank residents should reach out to the county health department office number listed above.

Long Beach

  • Who to call: Long Beach Development Services Department Code Enforcement Bureau, 562-570-2633
  • Notes: If code enforcement staff determine that the mold is a violation of Long Beach Municipal Code, and the landlord does not take action to remove it, it could result in a citation or a referral to the city prosecutor’s office. The city does not do any testing or removal of the mold. If a lot of repair and remodeling is necessary, landlords may be required to pay for relocation expenses, according to the Long Beach Development Services Department’s Code Enforcement Bureau.

Pasadena 

  • Who to call: The City of Pasadena Code Compliance, 626-744-8633
  • Notes: The Code Compliance Division will send an inspector to look for visible mold, and may issue a notice of violation to the landlord. If there are leaks in the home, repair requirements may be included in the notice. Pasadena city inspectors do not have the necessary expertise to assess the type and levels of mold or perform mold remediation. The landlord and tenant will have to look outside of the city for this type of help, according to Pasadena’s Planning & Community Development Department.

Santa Monica 

  • Who to call: Santa Monica Code Enforcement, 310-458-4984
  • Notes: Santa Monica Code Enforcement staff will perform a mold inspection. If there is a lot of mold and the inspector deems the home uninhabitable, then the landlord will need to make repairs, and potentially relocate the tenant (temporarily) at their expense, according to the city manager’s office. If no visible mold is found but there is excessive moisture in the unit, the property owner will still be required to make repairs.

Anaheim 

  • Who to call: Anaheim City Code Enforcement/Quality Rental Housing Program 714-765-5158, or fill out an “Anaheim Any Time” request
  • Notes: The Quality Rental Housing Program is made to ensure that all residents of Anaheim are living in safe and secure homes. The program’s staff work with landlords who own properties in the city in order to ensure that the homes and units they are renting out are in habitable conditions.

Irvine:  

  • Who to call:  Irvine City Code Enforcement, 949-724-6326
  • Notes: If a tenant calls Code Enforcement and complains about mold in their unit, Code Enforcement will assign an officer to assess the situation, who will then (if it’s found necessary) notify the landlord to get rid of the mold in a timely manner.

Other areas in Orange County 

  • Who to call: Orange County Environmental Health Division, 714-433-6000
  • Who can receive help: You can call this number if you live anywhere in Orange County. Some cities within the county may have additional resources (such as Anaheim and Irvine, listed above, for example).
  • Notes: If a tenant tells the OC Environmental Health Division that they have visible mold and that their landlord has not taken steps to get rid of it, then the environmental health division will send a letter to the landlord asking them to remediate the mold, according to the environmental health division’s assistant director. If, after 30 days, the landlord does not remediate the mold and it is still a problem, the tenant should contact the division again. They will then schedule a site visit and will issue a notice of violation to the landlord if a violation exists.