Is Landlord Responsible for Mold Testing?

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Last week, one of my tenants submitted a maintenance request for mold testing because he has discovered mold in the house. This was the first I’ve heard of this so naturally, I was surprised. Tenants are required to immediately report any evidence of mold or anything that can cause mold to grow. 

I sent someone to have a look and the mold was on the outside of the front door. There was no need for testing because we saw the presence of mold on the outside and even though it was the tenant’s responsibility to clean it up, we did it anyway.

However, not all mold issues are resolved so easily. If you are a landlord or a property manager, eventually you will have to deal with mold. Knowing how to respond properly can save you thousands of dollars and lots of anxiety.

What does mold testing accomplishes and thus when it’s needed?

The reason mold testing is done is to determine if mold is present and to identify the mold species. If you can see or smell the mold, in most cases there is no need to conduct a test. All you have to do is clean it and discard the items that can’t be cleaned. 

Since no EPA or other Federal threshold limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with Federal mold standards.” EPA website

Because no standards of an acceptable level of mold spores exist, the use of mold testing is limited.

When you should do a test?

If you see the mold, there is clearly no need to do testing, you know it’s there.

There are some exceptions to this:

  • When litigation is involved. 
  • When your tenants are reporting health concerns.
  • If you can’t determine the source of mold contamination.

Check with your insurance company if mold contamination as a result of a roof leak or burst pipe is covered by your policy. Some policies may also cover you if you are sued by the tenants. If you are planning on filing a claim, talk to your insurance agent and find out if you should do a test. You should of course balance the amount of repair needed and the risk that your insurance may increase after the claim.

If your tenant is reporting allergic reactions and other health concerns, it’s best to do a test even you don’t see or smell anything.

Common health problems reported include sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, skin rash, and asthma attacks. 

Sometimes, you can’t smell the mold and you can’t see it but it exists. Mold can hide under carpets, under wallpaper or paneling, or in the ductwork of an HVAC. If your tenants have health complaints, it’s prudent to do some testing.

What is the landlord’s responsibility for mold testing?

The landlord’s responsibility is to provide a habitable building. This means remediating mold and fixing any leaks. It does not mean testing, exceptions were listed above.

How to conduct a test?

Mold sampling should be “conducted by professionals with specific experience in designing mold-sampling protocols, sampling methods and interpretation of results”, in other words, a professional mold inspector.

Samples should be taken from the air, surface, materials inside, and water.  

Buying a test from Home Depot is a waste of money and time. The tests don’t identify the species of mold, they are unreliable and most importantly are not admissible in court.

 If you decide to do mold testing, find a reputable mold inspector. In my area, the mold inspections range between $350 to $450. 

What if the tenant insists on testing?

If you fixed the source of moisture and did mold remediation but the tenants still insist on having a test, ask them what their concern is and why they think you should order testing. Do they see or smell mold? If the answer is no, explain why mold testing is done.  A little education goes a long way.

If tenants have health concerns, do testing before remediation and after to show that the problem has been resolved.

NOTE: Keep good records, including receipts, photos, and transcripts of conversation. It’s much easier and more accurate if you communicate by email or text.

What to do If a tenant calls and requests a mold test without giving you a chance to fix the issue or when they threaten to withhold rent

If this is the first that you are hearing of this problem, explain when they can withhold rent. You can find all rental state laws here, look under tenant withholding rent for repairs. In most states, tenants have to give you a notice that you need to repairs before they can withhold rent.

Set the right expectations and explain what you will do to remedy the situation. Explain why testing is not the right first step when dealing with any mold.

If a tenant is requesting mold testing they usually have a reason to suspect mold presence. 

The first step will be to inspect the property visually. Most of the time you will see either mold growth or discoloration. Even if there are no visual signs, you may be able to smell the mold.

What to do if mold is present?

Some landlords assume that the next step is to do testing, however, that’s wrong. Your next step should be fixing the source of the moisture, clean-up, and mold remediation.

Resources:

EPA –  A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home

Mold Resource Center

About the author

Jana Christo is a business owner, real estate investor, and property manager. She has 16 years of experience in most areas of real estate.
During the last recession, she was also the managing partner for a company that bought and rehabbed properties from the court foreclosure auctions. Today, she manages her own portfolio of rental properties and shares her experience on Rentce.com.

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