In New Jersey, just like the rest of country, you and other members of the community have a responsibility to keep a watchful eye out for any potential dangers that may threaten the safety, security, and health of the people you care about. There are, of course, plenty of dangers in this world that we know how to stand up against. We lock the doors of our houses to keep out home invaders. We wear our seatbelts to keep safe in the car. We teach our children to cover their coughs and wash their hands, so they don’t get others sick. These are all basic actions we know to take in order to keep ourselves, our family, and the community running healthily.
The Dangers of Mold to Renters
Indoor mold growth can be very dangerous to the residents of the home. We know that there are around 1,000 different types of mold that are commonly found indoors. Of those, there are only a few handfuls of types that can be potentially harmful to humans. While any kind of mold can cause mild to severe allergies or other symptoms depending on the individual, toxic molds can release dangerous mycotoxins that can have serious, negative health implications for those breathing them in on a daily basis. Symptoms of mold-related illnesses can range from less serious reactions such as coughing, respiratory difficulty, cold and flu symptoms that generally go away when out of the home for long periods of time, fever and headaches to much more serious physical problems, such as hemorrhaging, brain damage, cancer, and in very rare circumstances, even death. In the case where the resident is renter, mold problems become a community risk.
In 2001, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs created the Senate Resolution 77 to control mold and keep the risk at bay. The legislation urges the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services as well as the Commissioner of Community Affairs to provide the public with assistance upon the finding of mold, and information regarding mold identification, strategies for dealing with mold, and remediation. They are also obligated to investigate any health problems that may be reported.
Identifying a Mold Problem Within the Home
The most common way to identify mold in your home is generally by using your senses of smell and sight, simple enough.
- Musty Odors: When it comes to scent, mold is generally described as having a very pungent musty or earthy odor that permeates the surroundings.
- Visual Signs: As for how to visually detect mold, it can come in a variety of colors, including black, white, green, and brown; it can also have different textures, from a white fluffy growth on old furniture in your basement to little black bloom-patterns emerging through the paint on the walls of your bathroom.
- Hidden Mold: However, if you are suffering from any of the health problems outlined above and you cannot smell or see any mold in your home, you may want to consider having a professional come in and do testing for mold contamination.
If you own your home in New Jersey and suspect there may be a mold problem that could be serious, you should take action by seeking out a certified expert to complete a professional inspection with testing and, if necessary, mold remediation. The process is relatively straightforward. However, if you are a tenant in a property that you do not own, the process can grow to be more complex. Since you do not own the property, you may not have the authority to have major work done on the property and/or you cannot afford a costly remediation on a home that does not belong to you (and you shouldn’t). As a renter you have certain rights at your disposal that can be utilized in order to remove the mold and keep yourself and the people around you healthy and safe.
First, you should know that your landlord has a duty under New Jersey landlord-tenant law that he/she must maintain any rental property in safe and decent condition. This is called the Warranty of Habitability. Now, given what we know about mold and the potential health risks it poses, it can be argued that finding mold in your apartment is an indication of your home not being maintained in a safe or decent manner, and thus is a violation of the Warranty of Habitability. If you feel that your landlord is in breach of the Warranty of Habitability, your first step should be to call your local building or health inspectors to alert them to the situation. This should get a building inspector out to the building at least, to assess the alleged mold contamination.
“Implied Warranty of Habitality— In return for you paying rent to the landlord, the landlord must make sure that the housing is fit to be occupied by the tenant. This warranty generally applies to physical aspects, like keeping the pipes and roof from leaking, making sure you have proper heating and hot water, and keeping the premises free of rodents and cockroaches.”
It’s possible, however, that the building inspector may not work very quickly (or at all) on getting the problem worked on, or you may already be suffering from negative physical effects. If this is the case, you may want to take further steps to get the mold remediation process hurried along. At this point, the next step should probably be to begin the process of withholding rent in an effort to force your landlord to have the mold removed.
Taking Action for Mold Remediation by Your Landlord
If you choose to take action by withholding rent, it’s highly suggested that you meet with a lawyer who specializes in tenant-landlord feuds in order to get professional legal advice. After meeting with a lawyer, write up a letter explaining the mold problem to your landlord. Be as descriptive as possible and be sure to reference the Warranty of Habitability that your landlord is in breach of, as well as a reasonable time frame to get the mold remediated.
- Be sure that all correspondence between your landlord and yourself is in writing and that you keep copies of them all in case a mold problem becomes a legal battle. You also want to make sure that any letters you send to your landlord are sent certified mail with return receipt requested so you have proof that you gave your landlord proper notification of the mold problem. A lawyer will often recommend that you get mold and indoor air quality testing conducted at your property by a professional environmental company. This is often a wise decision as it can provide you with evidence that a health risk exists. Such evidence can be used in correspondence with your landlord and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to support this issue. It can also be used in litigation, should it arise.
- If your landlord decides not to have the mold dealt with within the reasonable time frame that you provided by refusing to hire an expert to complete a professional mold remediation, you have the right to take further action. You should start by send another letter via certified mail, alerting your landlord of your intention to withhold rent if the mold is not taken care of promptly. Also make sure to let your landlord know that once the mold is removed, you will pay a reduced rent for the time that the mold became a problem to the time that the mold is removed. Give your landlord another reasonable time frame to take action. If the time period passes yet again, you can begin withholding rent in confidence that you gave your landlord proper warning and notice.
- Be sure to save all rent in a safe place, such as a savings account that you can collect interest on. In the event that your landlord decides to sue you for not paying rent, you will need to be able to show the court that you have the withheld rent. This is crucial, as it shows that you didn’t withhold rent because you simply didn’t have the money, but rather because of a legitimate concern for your own well-being.
- In the case that your landlord does argue the withholding of rent in court, you will want to collect as much evidence to support your case as possible. Any mold inspection and testing reports, laboratory results, photographs, personal witnesses, other tenant witnesses, or doctor’s reports that you have available will certainly help your case. If all goes according to plan, the judge will side with you and force the landlord to have the mold remediated. The judge may even order that any rent owed during the time that there was mold present in your home can be significantly reduced, or even dropped completely.
Regardless of the specific outcome of any potential case, the important thing to keep in mind is that as a renter, you have the power to make sure that the environment in which you live is safe not only for yourself, but also for your family, friends, and other members of the community.