Tuesday, May 16, 2006 • Mold plagues local homes — wet winter weather adds to misery

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 16, 2006 edition of the Lassen County Times.

After a wet winter and flooding conditions, local tenants have complained about uninhabitable conditions in rental units due to black mold.

Several renters have said not only is the mold intolerable, many landlords are unwilling to fix the problem permanently.

One tenant said she scrubbed her bathroom weekly with a strong bleach solution to get rid of the mold. However, each week the spots reappear on the dry wall in the ventilated bathroom. Black slimy mold also lines the window that sits above the shower area of the home near Main Street.

“He kept saying he would fix it,” said the tenant, who recently moved out and wishes to remain anonymous.

She now wonders if the landlord will paint the bathroom and give it a clean appearance.

Another tenant, who moved to the area from Southern California, said he rented the first affordable place sight unseen and when he moved there, he could not believe the back bedroom had mold half way up the wall.

Rather than fix the problem and bill the landlord, which is acceptable under California law, the tenant chose to abandon his lease and let others know of the problem.

One person who said he has been dealing with the mold problem is the city of Susanville Building Official Corey Bingham.

Bingham said he doesn’t ignore calls from tenants concerning mold and advises the landlord to fix the problem.

However, the Susanville Municipal Code does not have any specific instructions on how to deal with mold.

Chapter 2.28 of the Susanville Municipal Code reads: The Building Inspector of the city has imposed upon him or her the duty to enforce rules and regulations of the city housing department, as imposed by the Uniform Housing Code, and also of the state housing law as set forth in the California Health and Safety Code. The city building official provides the homeowner or landlord with information relative to tenant complaints, monitors progress and schedules a follow-up inspection within 10 working days.

Situations with mold in residences are considered a civil matter, said City Administrator Luann Rainey.

Rainey said the city does have community development block grant funding specifically earmarked for tenant-occupied housing rehabilitation. Landlords who want to rehab their rental property may qualify for a low-cost loan or other funding.

State of California tenant rights demands the rental unit by habitable. The Web site dca.ca.gov lists the landlord’s responsibilities in making the rental livable.

It also lists what makes a dwelling unlivable or uninhabitable. There are many kinds of defects that could make a rental unit unlivable, states the website.

The implied warranty of habitability requires landlords to maintain their rental units in a condition fit for the occupation of human beings. In addition, the rental unit must substantially comply with building and housing code standards that materially affect tenants’ health and safety.

A dwelling may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it substantially lacks any of the following:

  • Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
  • Plumbing facilities in good working order, including hot and cold running water connected to a sewage disposal system.
  • Gas facilities in good working order.
  • Heating facilities in good working order.
  • An electric system, including lighting, wiring and equipment in good working order.
  • Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds and appurtenances (for example, a garden or a detached garage), free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin.
  • Adequate trash receptacles in good repair.
  • Floors, stairways and railings in good repair.

  In addition to these requirements, each rental unit must have all of the following:

  • A working toilet, wash basin and bathtub or shower. The toilet and bathtub or shower must be in a room which is ventilated and allows privacy.
  • A kitchen with a sink that cannot be made of an absorbent material such as wood.
  • Natural lighting in every room through windows or skylights. Windows in each room must be able to open at least halfway for ventilation, unless a fan provides mechanical ventilation.
  • Safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway. Stairs, hallways and exits must be kept litter-free. Storage areas, garages, and basements must be kept free of combustible materials.
  • Operable deadbolt locks on the main entry doors of rental units, and operable locking or security devices on windows.
  • Working smoke detectors in all units of multi-unit buildings such as duplexes and apartment complexes. Apartment complexes also must have smoke detectors in common stairwells.

“The implied warranty of habitability is not violated merely because the rental unit is not in perfect, aesthetically pleasing condition. Nor is the implied warranty of habitability violated if there are minor housing code violations, which, standing alone, do not affect habitability,” state the Web site.

There is no mention of mold being a condition for making a dwelling unlivable.

Police Chief Chris Gallagher, as part of the city’s administrative team, said he is aware of some of the mold issues and that there has been some discussion about addressing the problem in the building code.

In the meantime, tenants can file a civil matter with the courts or work with landlords to correct the problem.