Sunday, September 03, 2006

Advice for tenant in moldy apartment

What can a tenant do when s/he discoveres that s/he is living in an intolerably moldy apartment?

What follows is an email, slightly edited, from a tenant in a moldy apartment in Kentucky. The risk in her situation is increased because she suffers from a compromised immune system. My advice to her follows her letter.

Tenant describes a moldy apartment
I appreciate the user friendly format and the wealth of information on your website. I'm suffering severely from mold related illness and I need immediate help.

Two months ago I moved into a new apt. Ever since I have had terrible congestion that appears w/in a minute of entering the apt. And only clears up after hours of leaving the apt. I have gone and had allergy testing and find I am highly allergic to *most* molds.

I have found a black shadowing mold like substance on the walls coming from beneath the kitchen cabinets. The *dust* settles on the edge of the counter at the wall beneath the cabinets. The dust is large particles that look a lot like black pepper. It also sticks to wall on the way down.

Possible causes of apartment mold, possible extent of mold

I have been made aware of a leaking roof in the 2nd floor apartments so severe that requires buckets to contain. The water, I have been told runs down the walls into the ground floor apartments where I am a tenant in one. The apartments are known to be old and from the road I can see large blackish streaks across the light brown roofing.

What steps the tenant has already taken

I've just bought two HEPA filters for the bedroom and living room which has seemed to make a significant difference in the severity of the congestion. Also, I have been told that the air conditioning and heat is run on a water coil system (the air is circulated through all of the apartments) which happens to be in my bedroom closet. when I removed the vent to put a filter in I found mold covering the bacck of the metal slats in vent cover. I cleaned it with bleach.

Wants to move

I need to move because I cannot live with this building-related sickness. It is important to know what I'm dealing with before I go to management, because it seems to be such a severe structural issue, they may try to do something underhanded and cover it up.

Compromised autoimmune system increases risk to tenant

Also I have some sort of autoimmune condition(Lupus, MS they haven't pinned it down) I am no longer able to do what I went to school for. My fine motor skills are compromised(and I have slight tremor).

I have a year lease and need to handle the situation in a way that will allow me get out from under this situation w/out my being taken advantage of and I am no expert in these matters.

Please let me know when you have a moment how I can handle this terrible situation(err, the mold) thank you so much for taking the time to read this lengthy missive.

Action Advice for Tenants in Moldy Apartments

I'll help as I can but keeping in mind I'm distant and can't see all of the conditions. Therefore my advice can only be general, and we must keep in mind that there could be important observations that might change the assessment of your situation as well as the advice on steps to take.

What you describe sounds severe and building-related.

Possible hidden mold

The mold that you *see* may not by any means be the whole problem, or even much of the problem; various species could be in building cavities and in the HVAC system. Also, "bleaching mold" is never a successful remedy for a moldy building. The places where mold is growing must be found, moldy material removed, exposed surfaces cleaned, and the causes of mold growth corrected. If the area of mold growth is large (more than 30 sqft) the work needs to proceed with special procedures to avoid spreading moldy dusty debris around.

Compromised immune system increases vulnerability to mold-related illness

The fact that your immune system is compromised places you at extra risk and means that you and the contents of your apartment need to be protected carefully.

Some possible mold reservoirs in the building

You describe two apparent sources, and of course there could be other sources from other leaks or problems you haven't discovered:

Roof - can have leaked into ceilings and walls; depending on what buildng marterials used, they could be moldy with problem molds.

HVAC - If there is a common A/C duct system which has become mold contaminated, no amount of cleaning in your immediate apartment would be sufficient since it is possible that the whole system needs to be cleaned, or possibly some duct sections replaced, and the cause corrected. Also it is common for A/C condensate or water from a chiller system to leak; water could have leaked into your closet ceiling and walls, also creating a problem mold reservoir.

Very often when I visit a site I find other leaks and mold sources that need to be addressed, so I wouldn't assume these are the full extent of what needs attention.

Building management reluctance to address mold problems properly

Sometimes a buildng management is reluctant to face the expense and trouble of handling this situation correctly - which would involve a thorough building survey, evaluation, diagnosis of problem areas and their causes and specification of the steps to remedy them, followed by performing of the work followed by clearance inspection and testing by someone not at all connected with the contractors performing the remediation.

Reluctance of building managers to address mold also comes from the wish to avoid alarming other tenants. In my experience this is always a mistaken notion, as tenants talk to one another anyway, and building-related illness frightens people - fear spreading faster than mold growth. Accurate information and the assurance that tenant concerns are being handled competently is more effective than other less direct responses by building management.

Half-baked or amateur workmanship risks increasing the ultimate cost to the building management by making building occupants sick and contaminating their belongings.

What a tenant can do about a moldy apartment

1. You should notify building management in writing of unhealthy unsafe conditions that need attention and that you are unable to live in the apartment.

2. You might be successful in identifying some of the mold suspect material you see as problematic, and you might collect a settled dust sample to see you can pick up indications of other problem molds or allergens. However identifing mold in an apartment, while it may convince building management to act, does not and cannot establish the level of exposure that an individual has had to the mold found, nor does it assure that the mold identified is the only or even the main hazard. The prime use of tenant sampling in this case is to show management that there is at leastsome evidence of problem mold in the building

Our mold sampling instruction contains sampling instructions you can follow. I'm on assignment out of the U.S. and won't be processing any lab samples until after 9/10 so if you are in a rush you should use another lab but you can still follow my sampling procedures.

3. If building management elects to make some effort to deal with the problem:

3.a. be sure that the work does not create demolition debris and mess which contaminates or further contaminates your belongings, especially soft goods like curtains, carpets, bedcovers, which may then require cleaning, and worse, upholstered furniture which might not be able to be cleaned adequately.

3.b. if your posessions are already likely to be contaminated with moldy dust they should be cleaned before taking them to a new home; soft goods can be laundered or drycleaned; hard surfaces can simply be washed or wiped. Moldy upholstered furniture is in question depending on how bad it is; surface dust can be vacuumed off of it; if upholstered furniture has been wet or has had mold growing on or in it it is probably not salvageable without complete reupholstering from the frame up.

The more you know about proper procedures to find and clean up moldy buildings the better you can assure that your situation is handled properly. The articles at these links might be helpful:

The Mold Action Guide

When to Hire a Mold Professional

FAQs about Mold

Keep me posted on how you proceed.
Best wishes.


This Blog is about "What to do about mold in buildings"
When is mold a problem in buildings? What should be done about it? Find expert field and lab testing, inspection, remediation advice, but ... avoid "fear of mold" and bogus advice which can both cost you and yet may not really address the problem effectively. My interest is in providing expert service to my clients, protecting not only their health but their wallets. I provide field investigations to find problems and to recommend solutions to mold in buildings, and I operate a forensic laboratory in New York which accepts mold and other indoor air and particle samples for examination. In depth information is at and the links at that page. Website content suggestions are most welcome.

Case Histories: Here I post summaries of field and lab toxic or allergenic mold and other indoor air quality investigations. I omit private information. I describe observations, procedures, and findings helpful to readers who are trying to remedy their own mold, allergenic, carbon monoxide, odor, or other indoor air and related health concerns in their indoor environment.