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Homeowners must be prompt and thorough when eradicating mold

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"On the seventh day the priest shall return to inspect the house. If the mildew [which some scholars translate as plague or leprosy] has spread on the walls, he is to order that the contaminated stones be torn out and thrown into an unclean place outside the town. If the mildew reappears in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house is scraped and plastered, it is a destructive mildew and the house is unclean. It must be torn down - its stones, timbers and all the plaster - and taken out of town."

- Leviticus, Chapter 14: 39-47

While our chemical, technological and building methods have progressed since this biblical work order for mold remediation, its basic tenets are just as valid today as they were then. With springtime rains just around the corner more people will become all too aware of the ancient plague known commonly as mold and will have to remediate it quickly to avoid the prospect of having to "tear it down."

Mold is a fungus that thrives indoors and outdoors in moist environments. Indoor mold grows on virtually all surfaces as long as there is sufficient moisture for it to survive. Mold reproduces rapidly by way of spores. Mold buildup often causes allergic reactions in people who come into physical contact with it or breathe mold floating in the air.

Mold also deteriorates the surfaces on which it is hosted. Thus, not only is it harmful to humans from a medical perspective, causing skin rashes, nasal stuffiness, asthmatic reactions, headaches and other symptoms, but it also damages building materials such as drywall, wood and wood-based products.

Your first clue that you may have a mold issue is the musty smell that hits you. Say you notice that the carpet is damp. Further investigation reveals slight discolorations along the wall near the floor. Other symptoms are blistering paint or peeling wallpaper. You pull up the corner of your wall-to-wall carpet and notice that the wooden tack strips are wet and discolored. If your nose itches, eyes water or you experience headaches or flu-like symptoms, it is highly likely that you have a mold problem.

Your first action should be to locate and eliminate the source of the moisture causing the mold to prosper. This step is absolutely critical. You can remediate all you like, but if the source of the moisture is not located and fixed, mold will return time and again.

The sources may be obvious, like an overflowing laundry sink or leaking faucet. Other times moisture detection will require more invasive methods or technological resources such as moisture-reading instruments. If moisture seems to be emanating from inside your walls, floors, ceilings, around windows or other structural barriers that are not readily visible, you may need to tear out those barriers to find the root cause. To avoid spreading the contamination, those moldy materials must be removed, contained and disposed of using special protective gear and breathing apparatus, so this job may be best left to the pros.

Unfortunately, in the Washington area and in many other parts of the country, mold remediation specialists are not licensed in that specialty and may not be licensed, trained or certified at all.

In the District, to perform mold remediation, all that is required is a business license and a home improvement license. These licenses are regulated by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, online at dc.gov.

In Virginia, the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation governs home improvement contractors who often engage in mold remediation, but it does not specifically license or regulate the mold remediation industry. The DPOR, which can be reached at dpor.virginia.gov, maintains a database of complaints filed against licensees and will provide complete files for free upon request.

In 2008, Maryland passed the state Mold Remediation Services Act whichwould have required contractors engaging in mold remediation to be specifically licensed as such and to obtain certification as a microbial remediation technician or supervisor. This law was scheduled to take effect June 1, 2010, but because of budget constraints, the implementation of this law has been indefinitely postponed.

Where government has not acted, industry has. There are about half a dozen industry groups that regulate, certify and accredit mold remediation businesses. One organization is the American Council for Accredited Certification, acac.org, formerly known as the American Indoor Air Quality Association. It certifies mold remediation specialists and maintains a nationwide database of certificants. The Indoor Air Quality Association, iaqa.org, sets industry standards for mold and other environmental remediation. These organizations should be the starting point for anyone in need of a mold remediation contractor.

Once you have located a "certified" mold remediation contractor and have determined that it does not have too many filed complaints against it, you are ready to enter into a written contract. At a minimum, the mold remediation contract must:

lBe in writing, preferably in plain language;

lRequire the contractor to conduct a thorough inspection, including hidden areas inside walls or ceilings, and to identify the source of the moisture;

lRequire the contractor to conduct appropriate testing and provide results to you;

lProvide copies of any certifications, licenses and insurance held by the contractor;

lSet forth a detailed plan of remediation, in plain language, including all chemicals to be used on the project;

lIdentify the remediation standards that will be used. The generally accepted guidelines for remediation of indoor air quality are set by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene;

lSet forth a detailed plan for the restoration of your affected area after the mold has been remediated;

lContain a warranty against future recurrence of mold in the treated areas. However, all warranties will disclaim liability for mold recurrence where there has been additional evidence of excess moisture; and

lRequire that payments occur in stages and that a final inspection of the air quality be conducted in the affected areas before final payment is made.

Harvey S. Jacobs is a real estate lawyer in the Rockville office of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake. He is an active real estate investor, developer, landlord, settlement attorney and lender. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining your own legal counsel.

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