Drew Shannon (for Express)

Tenants ask many different questions about mold. Is the landlord responsible for eliminating mold in my apartment? Do I have the right to terminate my lease if the landlord fails to get rid of the mold? Is the landlord required to hire a professional to perform the work? A recent statute and new regulations from the District’s Department of Energy and Environment help answer some of these questions.

Mold is never pleasant, and the variety of problems that come with it only make things worse. Mold can stain or discolor walls, ceilings, floors and fixtures; it can decay the structure of someone’s home; and it can cause human health problems, including asthma and allergy attacks.

Mold exists practically everywhere in the environment and cannot be entirely eliminated. Since mold thrives on moisture, the key to controlling it is to eliminate sources of moisture and water intrusion. The tenant and the landlord have a shared responsibility to prevent and control the growth of mold. The tenant is responsible for keeping the unit clean and sanitary, and for promptly reporting to the landlord or management any suspected mold issue.

The landlord has a general duty to keep the building clean, safe and sanitary, and to repair any damage to the building’s structure and systems. That includes leaky water pipes, windows and rooftops. But until recently, the mere presence of mold did not explicitly violate the District’s property maintenance codes. So unless the underlying cause could be identified, the tenant had limited options when seeking redress for a mold problem.

The Air Quality Amendment Act of 2014 sets forth much more specific landlord requirements, as do DOEE regulations that took effect at the end of April. The landlord must disclose to a prospective tenant any indoor mold contamination discovered within the past three years, unless it has been professionally remediated; must assess a suspected mold problem within seven days of a tenant’s written request; and must remediate the problem within 30 days. If there are at least 10 square feet of visible mold, the landlord must employ a professional to assess and remediate the problem.

If the landlord fails to fix an identifiable source of water intrusion, where the problem is not merely the presence of mold but an environment where mold could thrive, the tenant should request an inspection by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (202-442-9557 ext. 6). The inspection report will cite any code violations and specify how much time the landlord has to abate them. The tenant may also file an action at D.C. Superior Court’s Housing Conditions Calendar. This special judicial branch gives tenants a way to seek expedited relief from poor housing conditions, specifically a court order to the landlord to fix the problem. Information about mold issues is available at the DOEE website.

The tenant may also seek monetary damages if the landlord’s failure to respond to a substantial mold problem led to loss on the part of the tenant. If the unit is under rent control, the tenant should file a tenant petition at the Rent Administrator’s office, located within the Department of Housing and Community Development at 1800 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. The rent abatement will not cover damages beyond the reduced value of “services and facilities” included in the rent. The tenant must go elsewhere for other damages, such as lost wages, medical bills, damage to personal property and relocation expenses, or if the unit is not under rent control. In these cases, the tenant may seek relief at D.C. Superior Court’s Small Claims branch (510 Fourth Street NW, Court Building B, Room 102) or the Civil Division.
The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate, located at 2000 14th Street NW, Suite 300N, is here to help determine the rights and remedies that apply to the circumstances you confront as a renter in the District of Columbia. This column is for information purposes only. Contact the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate if you have any questions about a specific dispute with your landlord.

Questions about your rights as a renter in D.C.? Email asktheadvocate@washpost.com and the Office of the Tenant Advocate could answer your question in Express.

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Rental issues: Facing security deposits and damage charges