Landlord Liability for Mold in California

There is currently no federal law covering a landlord’s responsibilities when it comes to mold. Also, aside from disclosure requirements (as discussed below), California does have SB655 that specifically address a landlord’s duties when it comes to mold remediation. In San Francisco, mold is a “public health nuisance” (no different than trash accumulation or a pest infestation), which means tenants have the right to sue their landlords for violating city nuisance laws if they fail to remove any “visible or otherwise demonstrable mold” located anywhere “in the interiors of any buildings.” (San Francisco Health Code § 581(a)(6).)

California tenants who believe they have been harmed by the presence of high concentrations of mold in their apartment can try to recover damages from their landlord in court to compensate them for their loss. If a judge or jury agrees that the landlord negligently created a mold problem or allowed one to continue at a property, the landlord could be on the hook for any harm.

For example, an apartment building in Santa Rosa, California, had such a high level of mold (as well as a rat infestation) that the city ordered several reportedly sickened tenants to vacate their homes. Although the landlord gave the tenants $2,000 for relocation, the tenants are suing the landlord for damages, according to a press report.

Mold Disclosure Requirements in California

California requires sellers of residential buildings with up to four units to disclose in writing any known hazardous conditions, including mold (Cal. Civ. Code § § 1102-1102.17).

California law requires landlords to provide tenants with a written disclosure, prior to signing a rental agreement, when they know, or have reason to know, that mold exceeds permissible exposure limits or poses a health threat. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 26147.) Although the law allows for the adoption of permissible exposure limits, the state health department has determined that it’s not feasible to do so. In fact, in a Statement on Building Dampness, Mold, and Health (issued September 2011), the department takes the position that the mere “presence of water damage, dampness, visible mold, or mold odor” in a building poses a health threat. Rather than try to measure mold levels or determine specific types of mold, the department strongly recommends taking prompt, diligent steps to remediate mold and address any underlying moisture issues that may be present in a building.

Also, while federal law requires disclosures about lead paint, it doesn’t impose a similar duty on landlords when it comes to mold.

Aside from any affirmative disclosure requirement, however, if you decide to list a property for sale, you should be ready with responses to questions potential buyers might ask about plumbing, humidity, and ventilation issues in your building.

To learn more about landlord disclosure requirements in California, check out California Required Landlord Disclosures.