Mold is a type of fungus that consists of one of many types of small organisms found almost everywhere, but in particular tends to grow in damp indoor spaces and places with a lot of moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or in previously flooded indoor spaces. In residential housing, mold especially tends to grow in carpet, drywall, insulation, fabric, upholstery, wood, and porous materials. Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of adverse health effects, including upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheezing in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to it.
As a result, Virginia law has fairly strict standards for dealing with mold and excessive moisture in rented residential housing. The foremost of these is the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA), which applies generally to leases of all single-family and multi-family residential dwelling units located in Virginia, with few exceptions.
Under the VRLTA, a landlord has a duty to maintain residential premises in a condition to prevent the accumulation and the growth of mold, and to promptly respond to any notices from the tenant as to mold or moisture. Among other things, the VRLTA states:
§ 55.1-1220. Landlord to maintain fit premises
A. The landlord shall:
1. Comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
2. Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;
3. Keep all common areas shared by two or more dwelling units of a multifamily premises in a clean and structurally safe condition;
4. Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him;
5. Maintain the premises in such a condition as to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold and promptly respond to any notices from a tenant as provided in subdivision A 10 of § 55.1-1227 [of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act]. Where there is visible evidence of mold, the landlord shall promptly remediate the mold conditions in accordance with the requirements of subsection E of § 8.01-226.12 and reinspect the dwelling unit to confirm that there is no longer visible evidence of mold in the dwelling unit. The landlord shall provide a tenant with a copy of a summary of information related to mold remediation occurring during that tenancy and, upon request of the tenant, make available the full package of such information and reports not protected by attorney-client privilege. Once the mold has been remediated in accordance with professional standards, the landlord shall not be required to make disclosures of a past incidence of mold to subsequent tenants[.]
VA. CODE ANN. § 55.1-1220 (emphases added).
The tenant, in exchange, has a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the dwelling to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold, and to report any water intrusions or visible growth of mold that he or she discovers to the landlord. The VRLTA states:
§ 55.1-1227. Tenant to maintain dwelling unit
A. In addition to the provisions of the rental agreement, the tenant shall:
1. Comply with all obligations primarily imposed upon tenants by applicable provisions of building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
2. Keep that part of the dwelling unit and the part of the premises that he occupies and uses as clean and safe as the condition of the premises permit;
. . . .
6. Use in a reasonable manner all utilities and all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including an elevator in a multifamily premises, and keep all utility services paid for by the tenant to the utility service provider or its agent on at all times during the term of the rental agreement;
. . . .
10. Use reasonable efforts to maintain the dwelling unit and any other part of the premises that he occupies in such a condition as to prevent accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold and promptly notify the landlord of any moisture accumulation that occurs or of any visible evidence of mold discovered by the tenant[.]
VA. CODE ANN. § 55.1-1227 (emphasis added).
Whenever the landlord receives actual notice of mold, the law requires them to perform mold remediation in accordance with professional standards published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or an industrial hygienist consistent with such standards, and to use “ordinary care” to remediate the condition. The phrase “ordinary care” is judged case-by-case and in light of the circumstances, but generally may necessitate fixing the underlying water intrusion, repairing the moisture/humidity problem, removing and replacing or remediating any mold-damaged materials, timely and promptly responding to notices of mold, and/or obtaining substitute housing for the tenant(s) during the repairs, as appropriate, etc. Simply “painting over” or bleaching the surface of a mold infestation is generally insufficient, since the source of the mold must be addressed, or else it may continue to grow and spread in the future. If the landlord fails to use reasonable care, they could become liable for the tenants’ damages, under the doctrine of negligent repair, or for violations of the VRLTA, unless the mold condition was caused by the negligence of the tenant.
If you believe that there is a serious mold infestation in your unit, we would recommend that you inform your landlord. And if you have any significant signs and symptoms of mold-related exposure, to consult with your physician. If a dispute develops between you and your landlord (or your tenant), we would recommend that it is best to consult with a lawyer at the law firm of Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC or contact Nathan Rozsa at NRozsa@surovellfirm.com. A knowledgeable attorney can advise you of your specific rights and responsibilities.
VA. CODE ANN. § 55.1-1201.
VA. CODE ANN. § 8.01-226.12.
VA. CODE ANN. § 8.01-226.12.
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