Mold or Mildew: What To Do?By Melanie GreenIn a perfect world, mold or mildew would never show up on the property. Realistically, hot, humid climates like Florida and Texas are common areas where mold and mildew may show up. When tenants call to report that they’ve discovered either in their rental, this starts the process of mold remediation. The type and severity of the problem dictate what steps landlords need to do next.Here is a guide to:• know the dif ference between mold and mildew• understand common causes of mold• identify the health risks associated with mold• learn how to get rid of mold• prevent mold from happening again• recognizing tenant versus landlord responsibilities and liabilities• confirm what landlords should do when mold is discoveredHopefully, these tips will help property owners be better prepared if/when that mold or mildew call creeps in.What Is Mold?Mold is found naturally in the environment around. It is a type of fungus that grows when exposed to moisture and oxygen. Outside, mold plays an important part in breaking down fallen leaves. Inside, mold grows in moist environments such as wet carpets, insulation or wood. It can also grow in refrigerators, dishwashers and sinks, where food has been left to decay.Generally, mold grows if moisture isn’t addressed properly. Tenants can damage properties by not taking care of their living space. Even if they do, sometimes the property itself may be problematic. For example, a windowless bathroom is more likely to keep moisture in. Mold can also be undiscovered and creep its way into roof leaks or broken pipes.It can be dif ficult to know if something is mold or not though, according to Lilio Alvarez, the owner and operator of HouseMaster Home Inspections (for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco and Manatee counties in Florida).In the home inspection business, it’s called “potential microgrowth.” This is why it is important to have a sample confirmation from a credentialed mold sampling and testing company.Some signs of mold are:• Excess moisture and condensation, or dripping on walls and windows• Black stains on cabinets and walls• Water damage• Respiratory concerns from occupants, including wheezing and frequent illnessA home inspector can assess a property’s conditions to see if there are signs of potential microgrowth. If there is a reason to suspect mold, they can make referrals to agencies that can test it.How Is Mildew Different From Mold?Mildew is a type of mold with flat growth, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). People may see mildew on shower walls, tiles and window sills. Without proper ventilation, it has a musty scent. Unlike mold, which can penetrate porous materials (such as rubber, sponges and wood), mildew stays on top of flat surfaces (such as glass, marble or tile). Mildew also appears white or gray, and looks dry or powdery. Mold is raised, and looks slimy or fuzzy. The latter comes in a range of colors, including green, black and red.Common Causes of Mold in Rental PropertiesMold spores exist in the air and on surfaces brought into the home, such as shoes. When mold spores land on a wet or damp surface, it starts to grow as quick as it can to survive. The mold starts to destroy the furniture, carpet, insulation, wood or other materials if it’s left untreated.Health Risks Associated With MoldExposure to mold is unhealthy, especially for children and seniors. Indoor mold growth causes:• sneezing• red eyes• rashes• headaches• asthma attacks• dizziness• allergiesAdditionally, people with allergies may be more sensitive to molds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Residents with immune suppression, an underlying lung disease and/or chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma may experience dif ficulty breathing. In addition to getting the home repaired, those exposed to it may want to have a qualified medical clinician consulted for diagnosis and treatment.How to Get Rid of MoldThe process of getting rid of mold varies based on the volume of mold, type and where it’s located. Some strategies to reduce and eliminate mold include:Reduce the moisture Reducing moisture should be the first step in getting rid of mold. Installing a dehumidifier or using chemicals such as silica gel or Damp Rid to remove moisture from the air can help to stop the spread of mold spores. Silica gel is a better long-term solution because it doesn’t dissolve over time.Clean mold as soon as it’s discoveredTenants may try to remove visible mold on their own using lemon juice, peroxide or bleach before reaching out to landlords. Once tenants report mold, it is in the best interest of the landlord to try to remediate it as soon as possible. The longer it takes the property manager to take care of it, the more time mold has to spread.Mildew found along shower tiles or from food left in sinks probably would not require a professional mold remediator to mitigate. However, mold found on walls, insulation, ceilings or throughout structural parts of the home likely will require professionals trained in remediation. When in doubt, it is best to err on the side of hiring someone with experience to clean it.Invest in mold-blocking repairsThere are some readily accessible products sold at home improvement stores that can help to remove mold and protect the surface that needs repair. For example, if an unexpected roof leak causes mold, contractors can use mold-killing primer before repainting the surface damaged by the leak.Hire professional mold remediatorsSome types of mold, such as black mold, are extremely dangerous. Landlords and tenants should not attempt to remove significant mold growth or black mold from vents, walls, ceilings, floors and other surfaces. This could cause the dangerous mold spores to spread and continue to damage the property. It can be dif ficult to identify what kind of mold is present without a lab test from a credentialed agency. Hiring professional mold remediators can make more sense than trying to tackle dangerous mold without the proper gear and tools.If tenants can see mold, there is a significant chance that there’s mold behind drywall or in the attic, too. In humid conditions where mold spores are present, mold growth can exponentially grow. Repairing this level of mold damage requires professionals with the right credentials. For instance, getting rid of mold in drywall often means replacing the drywall. For large spots, a mold killing primer isn’t enough.How to Prevent MoldControlling moisture is key to reducing mold’s ability to grow. Timely roof repairs and fixing any plumbing leaks help to avoid the problem before it starts. The longer that rain leaks into the insulation, the more costly the repairs and the more likely mold will grow.In windowless bathrooms, make sure the bathroom is welllit. Mold needs not only dampness to survive; it also needs darkness. Property owners installing high-gloss surfaces and ceiling vents, and opting for glass doors instead of basic shower curtains, help contain excess moisture. Tenants with green thumbs may even want to consider tropical plants, a natural air purifier.Tenant cleanliness is also an important aspect of mold prevention. Cleaning the bathroom regularly and making sure to mop floors should be prioritized whether the bathroom has windows or not.But even if landlords take all necessary steps to prevent mold, it won’t be enough if tenants fail to report leaks, leave piles of spoiling food in the sink or leave wet clothes on the floor. When screening for new tenants, past references can illuminate whether they kept a clean house. When in doubt, some landlords opt to add a clause to their lease agreements about conducting regular property inspections to ensure proper maintenance.Tenant vs. Landlord LiabilitySome states have laws that enable tenants to break leases if mold is found in their rental units and not remediated properly. In the event landlords do not make adequate repairs and remediate the mold, tenants in both states can opt to file a lawsuit or end their leases and move out.For instance, in Florida, some tenants might withhold rent if the mold is severe enough to be considered inhabitable, even if this option is not outlined specifically in a lease. There is an implied warranty of habitability, though landlords must be given the option to fix the problem first. Another option in Florida is for tenants to pay for mold cleanup and subtract that amount from the rent.In Texas, tenants can try to withhold rent or deduct the cost of remediation. According to Tex. Prop. Code § 92.056, landlords must repair mold if it affects physical health and safety, the condition wasn’t caused by the tenant, the tenant isn’t delinquent on the rent and the landlord has written notice of the moldy conditions. In this case, landlords would generally have seven days to make those repairs.Next Steps for LandlordsReports of potential mold should be taken very seriously by landlords and tenants alike. To prevent significant property damage and legal liability from tenant harm, landlords should schedule a mold test from a credentialed mold testing company to assess and confirm the presence of mold.As mold is a naturally occurring organism found inside and outside, landlords may be bound to deal with mold. The sooner the mold is remediated, the less liability and property damage. Whenever possible, hire professional mold remediators to manage the process of removing mold from rental properties. Having a third-party assess and remediate mold is especially important for landlords and property managers, as the documents can serve as proof that the situation was properly handled.Once the extent of the mold damage is documented and known, the landlord has some serious decisions to make. The landlord can allow the tenants to break the lease and move, which is probably an ideal situation for properties that need extensive repairs from black mold. The landlord can hold the tenants responsible legally if the tenants are the cause of the damage. In some cases, the landlord could face a lawsuit from tenants who lived with the mold. Landlords can discuss the specifics of their situation with an attorney to ensure that they have all the information they need.