How to Avoid Mold-Related Injuries, Noncompliance Findings
Mold at your site can cause you big problems. The problems can range from remediation costs to loss of rent, and, perhaps most critically, long-term health effects. Mold-related health effects cause households to sue owners and managers claiming that they were injured by the presence of mold in their units. Even residents who themselves may be responsible for the mold growth might still sue you if they’ve been injured by mold. Also, tax credit rules require that, at least once every three years, your state housing finance agency conduct a review of the tenant certifications and a physical inspection of LIHTC sites. And, every year, the LIHTC owner must certify the site was operated in compliance with Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 42 requirements.
One of the annual certifications requires owners to certify that the site’s buildings and low-income units were suitable for occupancy, taking into account local health, safety, and building codes (or other habitability standards). The presence of mold at your site is a health and safety problem that needs to be addressed immediately under any inspection standard.
City Moves Family from Mold-Infested Unit
Mold infestations in affordable housing recently made the news due to a report involving the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) by NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. NYCHA has gotten in trouble in the past for concealing building violations from federal inspectors. The report put a spotlight on ongoing conditions the public advocate witnessed in public housing after visiting six NYCHA sites. For example, a mother of six children had a mold infestation in their apartment that was so bad, the city’s Administration of Children Services moved them into a homeless shelter.
As a result of the ongoing conditions, the report included recommendations for NYCHA, including to the process for making and documenting repairs. It called for the city to increase the number of live-in supers at all public housing complexes, as well as to create a list of “reliable contractors.” This is in response to tenants who say the fixes are often done poorly without getting to the root of a problem, such as painting over mold rather than remediating the infestation itself.
To help you prevent mold growth from harming residents at your site, and to head off lawsuits and inspection violations, we’ll give you a two-pronged strategy involving setting up a prevention program with your maintenance staff and implementing mold prevention rules with your households. These rules require households to take steps to prevent mold growth and to notify you of mold-inducing conditions. We provide Model Site Rules: Inform Residents of Their Mold Prevention Responsibilities that you can adapt and use at your site.
Management Side: Setting up a Preventive Maintenance Program
Molds are naturally occurring, airborne organisms that grow in indoor and outdoor environments. Mold spores can enter a building through doorways, windows, or HVAC systems. The most common trigger for indoor mold growth is moisture from water damage, leaks, flooding, or excessive humidity. Inspectors look for these types of triggers and will cite you if they find water stains, leaks, standing water, or other causes of mold at your site, even if no mold is present. Therefore, the most important measure in curbing mold growth is keeping moisture under control.
Your preventive maintenance program should concentrate on preventing elevated moisture levels that can cause mold growth. If indoor mold growth is already suspected, your program should concentrate on eliminating sources of mold and preventing it from occurring in the future.
Because mold primarily grows where there’s moisture, locating sources of it is usually easy. According to the CDC, large mold infestations can usually be seen or smelled. But not all mold growth is out in the open. To really stem the tide of mold growth at your site and prevent mold-related health problems for your residents, set up a preventive maintenance program that helps you locate, reduce, and ideally, eliminate the sources of mold. As part of your preventive maintenance program, take the following steps:
Promptly fix leaks and mop up standing water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you have between 24 and 48 hours to clear up a moisture problem before mold will start to grow. To prevent mold growth, instruct your maintenance staff to promptly fix leaks and mop up standing water as soon as they find out about the condition. And instruct your staff to inspect the site periodically for leaks or standing water that may have gone unnoticed.
Check humidity levels. Because moisture is necessary for mold growth, it’s important to keep the humidity in your site at acceptable levels. Your maintenance staff can usually detect humidity by using their senses. Or they can look at the HVAC system’s humidity indicators to see if the proper moisture level is being maintained throughout the site.
Visually inspect for mold growth. In addition to visually inspecting for leaks and standing water, your maintenance staff should visually inspect for obvious mold growth, especially after periods of heavy rain or flooding. According to the CDC, mold should be cleaned promptly with a combination of water and bleach.
Replace damp drywall. Leaky pipes or flooding can cause drywall to retain moisture. Drywall, combined with the moisture, creates an excellent breeding ground for mold. If moisture has leaked into interior wall cavities, it’s very hard to dry out. To remedy, you’ll most likely have to rip out the damp drywall and replace it.
Replace wet carpeting. Wet carpeting is another breeding ground for mold. As noted, you have between 24 and 48 hours to clear up a moisture problem before mold will start to grow. So if you can dry out a wet carpet within 48 hours of its becoming wet, you can probably keep the carpeting. But carpeting that has been wet for longer than 48 hours must be removed and replaced.
Promptly fix leaking and overflowing sinks or toilets. Your maintenance staff should also fix leaking and overflowing sinks and toilets as soon as they find out about the conditions. In addition to fixing the problem, your maintenance staff must thoroughly dry the surrounding area. Otherwise, any remaining moisture may contribute to mold growth.
Look for standing water, leaks on roofs. Standing water on a roof can also cause a mold problem. If the water collects near a fresh air intake, mold that grows near the standing water may be sucked into the site. Instruct your maintenance staff to look for standing water and leaks on the roofs. Also instruct them to check that all bathroom exhausts that let out onto the roof are unobstructed. A clogged exhaust could trap moist air in the bathroom, causing mold to flourish. If your roof is leaking, make sure you get it professionally dried and fixed. Otherwise, you’ll have moldy water leaking into your site.
Periodically inspect HVAC system. Your HVAC system can be a major cause of mold infiltration into your site. That’s because the humid conditions inside air ducts and drain pans can cause mold buildup. The mold can then be carried by the system to various parts of your site. To prevent this from happening, your maintenance staff or outside HVAC contractors should thoroughly inspect your HVAC system at least twice a year. They should follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning the air handling system, including changing or cleaning filters and coils as directed and using the manufacturer’s recommended settings.
Do walk-through of vacant units. Because your maintenance staff doesn’t have unlimited access to residents’ units, it’s hard to monitor conditions like leaks or wet drywall or carpeting. One way to monitor such conditions is to check thoroughly for dampness or mold when a unit has been vacated.
Household Side: Implement Mold Prevention Rules
To further prevent mold growth at your site, it’s important that households notify you of mold-inducing conditions within their units. Site rules on mold prevention can benefit you and your site by:
Educating residents. Site rules on mold prevention can inform residents about causes of mold. Not all residents are aware of these causes. It’s important that they know these causes so they can prevent a mold outbreak.
Instilling responsibility. Site rules on mold prevention let your residents know that they have a responsibility to combat mold growth at the site. Your site will be better protected from mold if residents do their share to prevent mold and inform you promptly of mold in their units that they can’t clean up.
Increasing odds you’ll be notified of mold-related conditions. Some residents may be reluctant to tell you about mold or a water leak in their unit because they’re afraid they’ll have to pay to fix the leak or remove the mold. Having site rules that require residents to notify you of mold and mold-inducing conditions may motivate residents to tell you about those conditions. That’s important because a quick response is key to preventing or controlling a mold outbreak.
Limiting liability. Site rules spelling out steps residents must take to prevent mold may give you at least a partial defense against residents who sue you for mold-related injuries. If you can show that the resident didn’t comply with the site rules, a court may find that the resident was partially responsible for the mold growth. Also, the site rules could show that you tried in good faith to take steps to prevent mold growth at the site. Site rules won’t get you out of trouble in every lawsuit, but they may help you present a defense in some cases.
What Site Rules Should Say
Your site rules, like ours, should:
Require residents to remove moisture accumulations. Moisture is a key component for mold growth. So your site rules should require residents to remove visible moisture accumulations in their units such as moisture on bathroom ceilings and fixtures, mop up spills, use exhaust fans when necessary, and keep climate and moisture levels at reasonable levels.
Require residents to keep units clean. Mold also needs a food source such as organic materials like wood, paint, paper, carpet, food, or dust to grow. Your rules should require residents to keep their units clean, particularly their kitchens and bathrooms.
Require residents to notify you of mold-related conditions. To give you a chance to respond appropriately and effectively to mold, your site rules should require residents to promptly notify you in writing of:
- A water leak, excessive moisture, or standing water in their units;
- Mold growth in their units that they haven’t been able to remove with household cleaning solutions;
- Malfunctions in their units’ heating, air-conditioning, or ventilation systems; and
- Mold or musty odors.
Warn residents of liability for not following rules. Finally, your site rules should let residents know that they may be liable for damage to their units and health problems that result from their not following the site rules.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Inform Residents of Their Mold Prevention Responsibilities|