Black mold is a devastating problem for owners and renters of rental property. It can be as challenging to get rid of as bedbugs and sometimes more dangerous to residents. If you find black mold in your rented home what are your rights and what do you need to do?

The Warranty of Habitability
California has a blanket law called the “warranty of habitability” that protects renters from getting stuck in homes infested by black mold, or other significant problems that could condemn a property. In simplest terms, a landlord cannot charge you rent for a property that is not up to basic living standards. You may be forced to move into a new home without being reimbursed for the cost of moving, but your lease with the landlord becomes void when the property is no longer habitable. Landlords may threaten otherwise, but the law is on the side of the renter there.

Landlord Liability
To prevent the dissolution of a lease, it is essential for landlords to inform their renters about black mold problems before they sign the lease; however no law forces them to do anything about it. Therefore, it is imperative that you inspect and treat any suspicious places in the property thoroughly for black mold. Landlords are required by law to give written disclosure to the renter before signing the lease of any mold that is beyond the permissible limits regulated by the California Health and Safety Code § 26147.

San Francisco law treats black mold as a public health nuisance and allows residents to sue for damages if they believe they have been harmed. There is no guarantee that awards will be given to them, but the opportunity is there.

Security Deposit Deductions
Sometimes black mold infestations occur at the fault of previous tenants and not the oversight or irresponsibility of the landlord. In these cases, landlords may deduct the cost of treating the property from the security deposit left by the previous tenants. To do this, landlords are required to give written notice to the tenants, stating the damage costs for mold or other property damages, within 21 days of the end of the lease. Any remaining amount in their security deposit must be returned to them after these expenses are paid.

Black Mold Prevention
Prevention is the best cure for black mold, along with many other property issues. Landlords should always have a property inspected before buying it, and older properties or homes with significant water issues should be examined on a regular basis. Potential renters should ask for these reports before moving into them. Even in the occasional cases when renters are awarded damages after lawsuits, much of the money is taken up by court costs and the money does not make up for the risk to your health, living in an area exposed to black mold. It is better to be safe than sorry, so make sure your property has been inspected before you move into it or lease it out to renters.