MOLD IN YOUR RENTAL PROPERTY

Your tenant calls and says there is mold in the property.  How is this handled?

The first thing is to not panic!  This is super important to address but not a ‘call-911’ situation, and in order to understand what you’re up against you should know a bit about mold.

Mold is everywhere in Florida.  It is a natural occurring fungus.  The problem comes when the mold level inside a property exceeds that of the outside levels.  When most people hear the ‘M’ word, they immediately panic thinking they are going to become extremely ill which could happen.  The longer a person is exposed to active excessive mold, the more damage that can be done to that person’s health.  Mold is known to make allergies become hypersensitive, those who don’t have allergies suddenly do, and if the mold spores get into the lungs it can cause asthma. 

There are many different types of mold.  Some of them are:  Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Cladosporium, Penicillium, and the really bad one, Stachybotrys.  The only true way to determine what kind of mold is present is through lab testing, but as a landlord or property manager, the best way to treat mold is to act as if it is Stachybotrys.  Mold grows when it has food and warmth.  Its food is dampness.  In order to stop mold you have to take away its food source.

My company policy on handling tenant reported mold is outlined in the example below.

  • The tenant calls and reports mold in the property. We ask if they can see it or smell it
  • The property manager will inspect as soon as possible to see what is happening. During the inspection they will determine if there is visible mold or a smell. Can they see if there has been a water leak?  They also take lots of pictures.
  • If there is a suspicion of mold, regardless to whether or not the mold is visible, the most important thing is to NOT DISTURB the area.  Disturbing active mold spores can make them become airborne which will then contaminate the entire property. 
  • After the inspection, the property manager will begin calling the appropriate vendors.  You may be asking why not start out by calling the vendors instead of wasting time inspecting since the property manager is not licensed to handle mold.  The reasons for the inspection can vary, but here are a couple of examples I have seen.

     -  The reported mold is in the bathroom = this ends up being the grout has mold/mildew that cannot be completely cleaned. This is remedied by replacing the grout using a handyman instead of a 24 Hr Emergency company, saving the owner potentially thousands of dollars.

      -  The reported mold was around the air conditioning handler = the reason was the drain pan was clogged, the tenant didn’t report the air conditioning leak, and mold began to grow.

Where property managers are not licensed to remedy mold, we have to try to determine what may be the cause so the correct vendors are called first.

Back to our example: 

  • The property manager discovered the suspect area was in the downstairs kitchen pantry.  Water damage was not visible yet there was visible mold growth on the wall.  Now the property manager will call a mold re-mediator.  {There are 2 types of mold licenses.  One is a mold re-mediator and the other is a mold assessor.  An assessor can also be a re-mediator but not both on the same job.  A mold assessor is the one you call when you can’t visibly see mold, but you can smell it and are unable to pinpoint where it is coming from.  The assessor performs some tests, determines where the increased mold spore count is, and then writes up a plan on how to remedy the mold.  The mold re-mediator is called when the assessor has written the plan or if the mold is visible or the mold can be pinpointed to a specific area.  In order to make sure an assessor is honest with their reporting, state law dictates that the assessor cannot perform the re-mediation.}  Since our example property manager saw the mold, a re-mediator is called to  inspect, get us a quote for the work, and let us know a time frame on getting the area cleaned up.
  • The owner is called so they are aware of what is going on, and informed that we will call their insurance company for them for a claim to be filed.
  • The re-mediator calls after inspecting and determines it will take about 4 days to remediate, the tenants will need to leave the property during that time because the kitchen and the upstairs a/c area will be under quarantine during that time.Something inside the wall is leaking and the pantry is directly below the upstairs a/c unit. A start date is scheduled to begin in 2 days. By this time, the property manager has filed a claim for the owner, and spoken with the field inspector. The inspector can’t be there for several days, so the re-mediator is given the name and number of the inspector and now they will coordinate more inspections on their side.
  • The tenants are informed that they have to vacate and they are not happy especially since they just paid rent and now they have to pay for a hotel. They are informed of 2 things.

           -Their rent will be abated the next month for the days the property is uninhabitable, and

           -The rent will be credited for the hotel cost up to a specified amount.(In our                       management agreement with our owners, the owner agrees to let us do this in order to lessen the potential liability and to help ease some of the tension of being displaced.)

  • An air conditioning vendor is contacted. They are informed of what’s going on, that the air conditioner may be the culprit, and they are given the contact information of the mold re-mediator so the two companies can coordinate work.
  • A handyman is contacted next. Once the remediation is completed, a rebuild will have to be done. The handyman is scheduled for a quote.
  • The re-mediator calls after the first day and discovered the air conditioning drain line was leaking and that was the cause of the mold.
  • The remediation completes on time, the tenant can move back in, the air conditioning company fixes the drain line, and the handyman goes to put together a quote for a rebuild.
  • With all vendors scheduled, the property manager stayed in constant contact with the owner, the insurance company, all the vendors, and the tenant.

This has been an example of a ‘smooth’ mold remediation following our company guidelines that would take less than 10 days from date of being reported to date of quarantine being removed. 

I hope this gives you some insight as to what steps are taken when a tenant reports mold in the property.  As stated at the beginning, always treat a mold report as if the ‘bad’ mold is present, act swiftly, and get the mold removed quickly.  By doing this, your liability could be reduced and may help to improve your tenant relationship.  Mold growth in a rental property is aggravating for everyone, and if left untreated can be extremely costly compared to being corrected at the beginning.

 

Happy Landlord-ing!!