Mold is a natural fungus that thrives in moist environments. It is not uncommon for mold to grow in areas of the home, such as in bathrooms, beneath the sink or in basements.
Though molds are not poisonous in and of themselves, some do product mycotoxins, which can exacerbate certain health conditions. Almost all molds, if not remediated quickly, can cause significant property damage. For these reasons, California has passed laws that protect tenants against untreated mold growth.
Landlord liability in California
According to SFGate, landlords have a legal liability to keep their rental properties “habitable” for tenants. Habitability requirements extend to all aspects of the unit, from the air-conditioning to the electricity to the roof and everything in between. This means that landlords must ensure that their properties are structurally sound and that they do not contain cracks, leaks or any other issues that could lead to excess moisture.
The theory behind these laws is that if a landlord follows them to a T, he or she can prevent mold growth. If, however, a landlord fails to abide by these laws and, say, fails to repair a leaking roof, a tenant can sue for mold damage and probably win. If, however, the tenant’s behavior is responsible for the mold growth, such as failing to clean up a spill in the kitchen, the courts will unlikely hold the landlord liable for ensuing damage.
Jurisdictions within California have the freedom to enact their own mold laws and regulations as well. San Francisco, for example, considers mold a “legal nuisance.” This means that the city can sue the landlord for failing to clean up mold, just like it can sue landlords and homeowners for leaving piles of trash lying around or for allowing a rat or roach infestation to continue.