Mold Laws for Tenants

New California state and SF City laws took effect on January 1, 2016. The biggest change is Senate Bill 655 (SB 655) or the Mold Housing Act, which provides follow-through to the 2001 Toxic Mold Protection Act that primarily ordered a study to try to determine what level of mold is harmful to human health. That’s not possible with current technology.

SB 655 provides that a landlord has no obligation to repair a dilapidation relating to visible mold until the owner/landlord has received notice of the mold problem. So email or write your landlord! Keep a copy. But first, read the law yourself.

Also see San Francisco Building Department’s Mold Notice of Violation.

This bill specifies that visible mold growth, except mold that is minor and found on surfaces like shower tile, that can accumulate moisture as part of their proper and intended use, is a type of inadequate sanitation and therefore a substandard condition. The bill defines mold as microscopic organisms or fungi that can grow in damp conditions in the interior of a building.

As initially introduced, SB 655 would have added mold to the conditions that make housing substandard. The bill was amended at California Apartment Association’s request.

Under the current bill, a property cannot be declared substandard unless a code enforcement officer makes the identification that the visible mold exists to the extent that it endangers the occupants. A property owner is not responsible for mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their properly functioning and intended use, such as bathroom showers and the like. Under current law, the term “any nuisance” found in the health and safety code is used by code enforcement and tenant attorneys to make claims against the property owner about mold in the housing and the conditions surrounding mold growth.

What does this mean for the rental housing industry?

While the new law does add “visible mold” to the list of conditions that can make a property substandard or untenantable, SB655 offers property owners some protections from bogus claims of mold contamination:

Visibility: The mold growth must be visible. No more air tests that tenants and their attorneys attempt to use to delay evictions and avoid the payment of rent.
Confirmation: The mold must be determined by a health officer or code enforcement officer to rise to a level that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety or welfare of the public or the occupants. No more last minute tenant self-declarations that the mold exists.
Location: The law excludes from the substandard code mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their properly functioning and intended use – such as bathroom showers and window sills.
Notification: The owner must have received notice that the mold exists to have any obligations under the law.
Accessibility: The law makes clear that the landlord has the right to enter the property to make repairs and clean up any reported mold. In some situations, today, a landlord receives notice, but the tenant refuses to allow the owner in to address the issue.
CA Dept. of Consumer Affairs Tenants Rights

“An authoritative reference book suggests two additional ways in which the implied warranty of habitability may be violated. The first is the presence of mold conditions in the rental unit that affect the livability of the unit or the health and safety of tenants… Even if a rental unit is unlivable because of one of the conditions listed above, a landlord may not be legally required to repair the condition if the tenant has not fulfilled the tenant’s own responsibilities.”

Senate Bill 655 is Codified as Civil Code § 1941.7, and Health and Safety Code §§ 17920 and 17920.3