Mold and Mildew - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Tenant: 'Mr. Landlord, I hate to complain, but there is this black stuff growing all over our bathroom. Can you please come over and get rid of it today!' Dealing with mold and mildew is not one of the most treasured moments in property management. Yet, there isn't any escaping the fact that they cannot be eliminated. Sooner or later most landlords will have to deal with this issue.

What is mold/mildew? If you recall from your high school biology class, molds and mildew are from the fungi family. During humid weather they thrive outside our home producing large quantities of spores. The wind blows these spores into our homes every time a door or window is opened or we carry them in on our clothes and in our hair. These spores are all around us all the time. When the spores land on organic materials all they need is a little bit of moisture to thrive. A little food on the floor, a sticky chocolate finger print on a cupboard door, a dirty A/C filter, water in the drip pan under an old refrigerator, dust accumulation in the dark corners of our bedroom, sweaty clothes thrown on the floor of our closets, and soap buildup in a shower all permit the ugly growth of mold and mildew.

So, are all fungi bad for us, or just the mold and mildew? Good question. You might agree that there are few things more delightful than indulgently consuming pizza and beer while watching your team put together a 23-3 victory over the opposing football team. Now, my idea of a great pizza requires an abundance of arugula and Shiitake mushrooms seasoned with soy sauce. My preferred choice of beer is the high gravity Old Rasputin Imperial stout. You might not realize it, but that describes a fungi rich meal. The yeasts used to brew the beer and to raise the bread are fungi. The mushrooms are fungi. The soy sauce is made with a fungus - a mold. In fact, some of our statin cholesterol-lowering drugs as well as penicillin are derived from specific types of mold. The black stuff in your tempeh is a mold and Koji mold is part of the process in the making of Japanese sake. Say hello to yum.

Molds - the good, the bad, and the ugly So if there are so many 'good' things about mold, why do we try to eliminate mold from our homes? Ok, yes, mold is terribly 'ugly', but more importantly, mold can be harmful in several ways. First, some black molds produce mycotoxins that can lead to neurological problems. Second, mold spores can elicit allergic reactions and cause respiratory issues - particularly in those most sensitive to these substances. Note, let your landlord know if your house/apartment has mold, then consult your doctor/allergist if you think your symptoms may be related to contact with mold.

If the mold isn't in my tempeh, it's got to go. There isn't any way to completely eliminate the presence of mold in our homes, but we can lessen its growth potential.  Here are some things you need to know:

  • Keep things dry - Mold requires moisture to grow. If you control the moisture, you can control the growth of mold. Check the humidity in your house. Keep it below 50 percent by using the air conditioner and/or a de-humidifier. Laundry, cooking, and bathing areas should be vented to the outside. Vents need to be run for about 15-20 minutes after a shower. Consider removing carpet around areas where moisture is common.
  • Keep things clean - Mold can grow on upholstery, clothing, carpet, painted as well as papered walls, ceiling tiles, cardboard, and even on dust. Whether it is mildew or mold, toxic black mold or not, use soap and water, commercially available mold removing products (follow manufacturers directions carefully), or a solution of bleach and water (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water). Be sure NOT to mix a bleach solution with commercial products that may contain ammonia. The combination may be more toxic than the mold. Also, while cleaning, use rubber gloves. Other cleaning substances can be found HERE. Also, be sure to wipe up spills when they occur and vacuum carpets regularly.
  • Keep things simple - You don't need to know the exact type of mold. Tests to  identify the exact type of mold are expensive and the CDC actually does not recommend testing. If you see or smell mold, just eliminate it as best you can - unless, of course, it is in the tempeh. If the source of the mold is a leaky pipe, call your landlord. Also, when you (landlord or tenant) paint, make sure a mold inhibitor has been added to a low VOC paint.
  • Keep this in mind - Wherever moisture is present, mold and mildew will begin to thrive within 24-48 hours. By the time mildew or mold is visible, it has had enough time to produce enough spores to fill your whole house through your A/C unit.

Mold and Your Landlord/Property Management Company Sometimes the presence of mold/mildew is a tenant issue. The landlord can't be there each day to turn on your bathroom exhaust vent after your shower, vacuum carpets, wipe your kids hand prints off doors, remove your sweaty sweat pants from the closet floor and put them in the wash for you, or change your A/C filter each month.  Those are all your responsibilities as a tenant to keep the spore count down and mildew from growing. That being said...

Sometimes the presence of mold/mildew is a landlord issue. It is not the tenants responsibility to fix leaky faucets, repair exhaust vents that have stopped working, or replace roofs that leak. Landlords must find the source of the mold/mildew and then remedy the problem.

The lease agreement should spell out how the tenant is to contact the landlord in such cases. Usually a written letter sent by registered mail is required - over and above an initial fyi call. Be sure to carefully read your lease agreement and even the property code for your state. In Texas, refer to Property Code 92.056.

When the tenants health and/or safety is at risk the landlord is required to act in a reasonable period of time - usually that means within seven (7) days of notice. If the landlord does not respond or remedy the problem, the tenant can terminate the lease or remedy the problem and hold the landlord accountable for the cost - at least up to a certain amount. Yet, again, check out the law.

Want to learn more about this topic? Here are some really helpful resources: CDC - Mold EPA - Mold OSHA - Mold Wikipedia - Mold Texas Mold Assessment/Remediation Rules Renter's Rights on Mold and Mildew Landlord's Duties Regarding Mold