Your legal options may be limited in Washington
Mold infestations in Washington rental units can present a host of challenges for tenants and landlords, with the responsibility often falling on the landlord to address the issue.
Molds, a diverse group of more than 100,000 species of microscopic fungi, play a crucial role in the ecosystem by breaking down and digesting organic matter. While their presence can be beneficial in natural settings, such as decomposing fallen leaves and plant debris, they can become a major concern when they infiltrate homes and start consuming building materials.
Understanding the responsibilities of landlords and tenants when it comes to mold management is essential for maintaining a safe and healthy living environment.
Is all mold harmful?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), molds themselves are not toxic or poisonous, but there are certain mold species that are “toxigenic,” meaning they produce fungal toxins. Some fungal toxins can cause a toxic response in humans and animals, even in small amounts.
Mold species are generally categorized as one of three types:
|Unlikely to cause illness.||Can cause infection in people who are immunocompromised.||Toxic to all humans and animals who encounter it.|
Molds can cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. Additionally, mold exposure may irritate your eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Symptoms other than allergic and irritant symptoms are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold. The link between molds and acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants, memory loss, and lethargy have not been proven.
Research on mold and its health effects is ongoing.
Is black mold dangerous?
Black mold is a type of fungus that looks dark green or black. There are many kinds of black mold, but when most people talk about black mold, they’re referring to Stachybotrys chartarum.
Black mold exposure is no more dangerous than any other type of mold exposure. Symptoms of black mold exposure include:
- Nasal congestion
- Postnasal drip
- Red eyes
What’s more, black mold exposure can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
What are my landlord’s responsibilities with respect to mold in Washington?
There are no explicit protections from mold for tenants in Washington.
Although landlords don’t have a specific legal mandate to fix mold problems, they are legally obligated to fix the problems that cause mold growth, such as water leaks and ventilation or heating defects.
Washington law gives tenants the right to vacate their rental units and move if the landlord does not make necessary repairs within a reasonable period of time.
To put it another way, the mold itself may not be enough to allow you to break a lease, but a landlord’s failure to fix the problem causing the mold (such as a leaky pipe) may be sufficient.
Suing your landlord for mold in Washington
It’s possible to sue your landlord if you suffered damages as a result of mold exposure. To successfully sue your landlord, you’ll need to be able to establish that:
- You requested that your landlord fix the mold issue,
- Your landlord failed to fix the mold issue, and
- You suffered damages as a result of your landlord’s failure.
In most cases, establishing the third element is the most difficult.
Proving a direct link between the mold exposure in your rental unit and a specific health problem can be challenging for several reasons, including:
- Multiple factors: Health problems can arise due to various factors such as pre-existing medical conditions, environmental factors, or genetics. It can be difficult to isolate mold exposure as the sole or primary cause of a specific health issue.
- Testing: Without paying for expensive testing, it can be extremely difficult to prove that the mold in your apartment is toxigenic.
- Common symptoms: Many symptoms associated with mold exposure, such as coughing, sneezing, or headaches, are also common symptoms of other conditions, such as allergies or viral infections. This overlap can make it difficult to pinpoint mold as the primary cause of your health problems.
- Multiple mold sources: Mold is a natural part of our environment and can be found both indoors and outdoors. Proving that the mold in your apartment is the sole cause of your health issues can be difficult, especially if you have been exposed to mold from other sources.
To strengthen your case, it’s important to document the mold issue, your symptoms, and any medical treatment you have received. Consulting with a medical professional and a lawyer can help you better understand your situation and determine the best course of action.
Preventing and fixing mold problems
The Washington State Department of Health has some tips for preventing mold problems and cleaning up mold:
|Preventing mold||Cleaning up mold|
Still have questions? The following resources may help:
- Washington Guide to Landlord-Tenant Laws
- Landlord and Tenant Responsibilities in Washington
- Can I Sue My Landlord for Mold in Washington?
- Tenant Rights and Rental Repairs in Washington
- Guide to Security Deposits in Washington