The mold hysteria is way overblown. From my point of view, some mold remediation gimmicks have the potential to be one of the largest scams facing modern day landlords. In this article, I will examine five mold myths that feed the hysteria.
1. Mold Remediation Companies
You've seen them before. They drive around in their flashy vans warning everybody that mold is going to kill them! You take a closer look, and this is what you see:
"Licensed Professional - Mold Certified"
Which leaves you to believe that because they have a license, and because they are certified, they must be the only qualified person to take care of the issue.
And don't tell anybody this, but I fell for it! For the longest time, I thought that only a certified professional could correct a nasty mold problem. I figured there must be some sort of asbestos-like regulation that brought about these mold remediation companies.
But then, I did some research and I stumbled upon The California Department of Public Health. According to their official website, "There are no California regulations for licensing mold remediators." Sure, there are ceremonial licenses that do exist. However, they are just that, ceremonial.
Ultimately, mold remediation companies have the same general contractor license that a typical handyman has.
Now, I'm not here to shame all of the mold remediation companies. Some of them are really good, and if you have a mold horror story, that's what they're there for. If you have a serious mold problem, call them. They exist for a purpose, just don't overpay them for a simple job that can be cleaned up with soap and water.
2. Toxic Mold is Super Dangerous
Let's be real, mold has some serious health implications. Some people are more likely to be affected by mold than others. Young children, the elderly, and people with asthma are at a higher risk of having health complications due to mold.
Hay fever-like symptoms and the increased chance of an asthma attack are common side effects of mold. These can be serious issues, and a tenant's health is still the number one priority.
But, I also want to point out that many mold problems are blown way out of proportion. This Washington Times article, makes the point that,
"The impression that toxin-producing molds are rampant and more virulent than ordinary molds -- an impression created by some news reports and on the Internet, often on sites operated by companies that sell mold tests, cleanup systems or legal services -- is not supported by evidence."
With a simple Google search, one can easily see that many of the "news" stores about toxic mold are put out by the same people that do the remediation. Talk about a self fulfilling prophecy!
3. Mold Tests
- "You should probably get that tested for mold."
- "Just buy a mold test kit online, they're cheap."
- "Have a mold inspector come out and do a test."
The above are just examples of what I've heard in regards to mold tests and I always thought that they were scientific. It seems like an easy enough thing to test for. After all, mold is a fungus and it reproduces with spores, so an easy way to test for mold would be to test for spores.
Well, I checked with the California Department of Public Health again and this is what they had to say about mold tests,
"We do not recommend testing for mold ... As of now, no mold tests or measurements can show when remediation efforts have been successful."
Mold tests were largely popularized by The State of California in 2001 when the legislators passed "The Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001." This bill provided funding for the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to study mold, its consequences and its remediation. In addition to this it provided funding for the CDPH to create/validate mold tests in the form of permissible exposure limits.
Permissible exposure limits are how much of a dangerous substance a human can be in contact with while avoiding bodily harm.
In 2005 and again in 2008, the CDPH tried to come up with scientific ways to test for mold. However, as of August 2019, the department has yet to come up with a reasonable standard for permissible exposure to mold. The CDPH current stance on mold tests are as follows:
"A building investigator's conclusions from mold tests about water damage or mold growth are based only on his/her judgement, and not on solid scientific evidence."
Basically, don't waste your money on mold tests. They aren't backed by any science and you're better off just spending the money to solve the problem, which usually means replacing any water damaged items and fixing a leak.
4. Mold is Hazardous Waste
Contrary to what many people believe, mold does not need to be hauled away in the same containers used for nuclear waste. In fact, a piece of moldy drywall can just be disposed of in a regular trash can in a regular trash bag.
If you have an extremely large item that is covered in mold, it is recommended that you wrap it in some sort of plastic and seal it in duct tape.
5. You Can't Clean Up Mold By Yourself
According to the EPA, a homeowner should be able to clean up a 9 square foot section of mold damage themselves. If the mold is on the surface of say, your shower tiles, you can simply clean the tiles with soap and water. If you need something a little more aggressive, you are free to use a diluted bleach solution to tackle that pesky fungus. Just be aware that bleach is also toxic.
You do not need any special cleaners from the store, however Amazon.com sells some good cleaners that are designed to remove mold faster and with less work than if you used just soap and water.
Can I Just Ignore The Mold?
Absolutely not. Just because mold does not require expensive remediation companies, and just because there are a lot of scams regarding mold, it still cannot be ignored. Mold is still a health hazard, and it is still a habitability issue under current California law. According to SB655,
"Visible mold growth, excepting mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their proper and intended use, is a type of inadequate sanitation and therefore a substandard condition."
The key phrase above is "substandard condition." In the property management world, that's a fancy way of saying the tenant is living in a home with habitability issues. If a home remains in this condition for an unreasonable amount of time, the tenant can take action against the landlord. According to Marcia Stewart, a real estate law author, tenants can do the following under these circumstances:
- Withhold Rent
- Pay for repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent 'repair and deduct'
- Call state or local building health inspectors
- Sue the landlord
- Move out without notice
At the end of the day, even if the tenant's health is not enough incentive to fix a mold problem, The State of California will just step in.
How Do I Repair Mold?
To repair mold, you first have to find the mold. There are four main red flags that signal mold may be present,
- Visible water damage
- Damp materials
- Visible mold (obviously)
- Mold odor
If any of the above listed items are present in your dwelling, you might have mold, and if you cannot find it, you should have a licensed general contractor with mold experience to come take a look. Again, no need for one of those expensive "mold certified" remediation companies.
One huge benefit to living in the desert of Southern California is the lack of humidity. In this hot climate, water evaporates faster than a knife fight in a phone booth! Therefore, mold only tends to grow around active leaks.
You should actively inspect your properties for leaks. Check under the sinks, around the toilets. If you see or feel water, don't just ignore it, get it fixed! And if you're a Mesa owner, get a safety inspection. One of the main goals of our safety inspections are to find leaks before the mold gets a chance to grow.
If you spill some water on your carpet, just open a window and let the water evaporate. It's not an emergency. Now, if water is continuously dripping under your kitchen sink, that's a huge issue. That creates an environment where mold can thrive and spread, and that repair gets really expensive.
If the water has soaked into a porous material such as drywall, your best bet is to discard the damaged material and start fresh.
How Does Mesa Properties Handle Mold?
Mold is still considered to be "the 911 call of property management." If a water heater starts leaking on a Friday, that problem needs to be handled within 24 hours. If not handled properly, water can seep into the wood and drywall and mold can start growing rapidly.
Typically, if water is cleaned up within 24-48 hours of the spill, no mold will grow. That's why Mesa Properties always has someone to take care of those emergency water leaks in the middle of the night.
If you have any questions about how Mesa Properties handles mold, please feel free to give us a call. Or, check out our other landlord resources.