Toxic Torts

Landlord Liability for Toxic and Black Mold

Updated by Janet Portman, Attorney
Can a tenant sue if there's mold on the premises?

All but one state (Arkansas) require landlords to offer and maintain fit and habitable housing. Legislatures and courts are increasingly including the significant presence of certain types of mold as a health hazard that might violate the landlord’s duty. Understanding and quantifying the risks of breathing in toxic mold spores is a challenging area of science and medicine; indeed, experts have yet to identify all of the molds that are dangerous to health. Problems proving that an injury was a direct result of exposure to toxic mold have also made it difficult to pursue this type of case.

In spite of the medical and scientific challenges, tenants in several states have successfully sued their landlords for the consequences to the tenants’ health from unremediated mold in their rentals. If mold develops in your apartment as a result of your landlord’s poor maintenance, and you can prove it has significantly affected your health, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against your landlord

Tenants Responsible for Mold Cannot Blame the Landlord

Your ability to collect from your landlord when mold had made your sick has one big “but if:” The problem must have resulted from the landlord’s failure to maintain the property, not your own poor housekeeping. For example, leaving windows open while it is raining, refusing to allow the landlord access to the apartment for maintenance, and improperly using appliances that cause high humidity (not letting steamy bathrooms dry out) are all actions that the tenant is responsible for, not the landlord. As a result, in most instances, the landlord will not be liable.

Some States and Cities Have Passed Mold Laws

A handful of states, including California and New Jersey, have passed laws to establish acceptable levels of mold spores in indoor air. Certain cities, including New York City and San Francisco, have included mold in their list of “nuisances” and department of health guidelines. If you live in these areas, your landlord has an increased responsibility for mold. You may be able to make a claim against the landlord for violating these specific laws, regulations, and guidelines.

Mold Disclaimers in Leases May Not be Valid

Some landlords attempt to forestall any mold-related claims by including a clause in the lease or rental agreement that exempts them from liability for mold. Whether a court in your state would uphold such a waiver depends on whether absence of mold has been recognized in your state as part of the landlord’s duty to maintain fit housing. Even if your state legislature has not specifically included mold remediation as part of the landlord’s maintenance duty, a court might construe the landlord’s maintenance duty broadly, to include mold.

As you can see, the validity of mold liability waivers in leases is state-law dependent, and in some states, courts have not even ruled on the issue. As more cases of mold litigation make their way through state court systems, and legislatures take up the question, the answers will become clearer.

Legal Help

The law surrounding personal injuries sustained from exposure to toxic mold is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, consider contacting a personal injury lawyer.

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