Can I get out of my apartment lease due to serious mold problem?

January 6, 2014 23:04 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I recently moved to a new apartment from out of state.  I put in a service request with the property manager because the carpet in my son’s room was very wet and smelled of mold.  After looking at the apartment, the property manager realized that the mold issue was serious.  I explained that I would be out of town for four days.  She said when I returned I would have to move out immediately and that she would show me another unit.  The problem is that they began the work the day before I returned home by knocking down the wall and exposing the mold.  They were well aware that I had a dog in the house, and part of our agreement was to wait until I returned home before beginning the work.  I am concerned about the effects that high exposure to this mold might have had on my dog.  Also, who is responsible financially for moving me into another unit?  Having just relocated to Georgia, I have no friends or family who can help me move.  I called management to complain about the work being started before my return, but no one has called me back.  At this point, I am so unhappy with the management here that I just want to get out of my lease.  What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:

The first thing you may want to do is consult the Landlord-Tenant Handbook, which can be found on the Department of Community Affairs’ website. The Handbook has a discussion of “constructive eviction”, which may be a way for you to get out of your lease. There are two things necessary to show that there has been a constructive eviction:

  1. the landlord’s failure to repair has made the unit an unfit place for the tenant to live; and
  2. the unit cannot be restored to a fit condition by ordinary repairs. 

This is quite possibly what is going on with your apartment.  Your landlord and/or its agent, the property management company, failed to make the repairs necessary to prevent a serious mold issue from developing; now, this mold problem is so extreme that you need to move to a different unit.  However, your lease is for the specific unit into which you originally moved, not for a different unit.  The property manager may be showing you other units as a convenience or so that he or she doesn’t lose a rent-paying customer, but unless your lease specifies that you are obligated to accept a reasonable alternative apartment in the event of a constructive eviction, you may not be under any obligation to continue renting from this company.  However, you should consult an attorney before taking any definitive action.

With regard to the effect of the mold on your dog, you probably have no recourse unless your dog is acting differently than usual (not eating or drinking, sneezing/wheezing, listless, etc.).  Limited natural exposure to mold spores is a part of everyday life, and is typically not a health threat.  However, prolonged exposure to elevated levels of mold spores is what can cause a reaction in otherwise healthy individuals (animal or human).  On the other hand, it’s always possible that your dog could be hypersensitive to mold spores, and could experience serious health reactions despite only minor exposure to mold.  Common reactions include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation.  If you believe your dog has become ill from the mold exposure, you should contact a veterinarian, and then, if the vet can confirm the dog’s illness was caused by the mold, speak to an attorney to explore your options for legal action.

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How can I test for asbestos, mold and mildew?

October 24, 2013 16:45 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

Are there government labs where a person can bring a sample to have it tested for asbestos, mildew and mold?

Consumer Ed says: 

No, but various government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have specific recommendations for how and whether to test samples for asbestos, mildew, and mold.

Asbestos

If you would like to test for asbestos, the EPA recommends using an accredited laboratory in your area. After Congress enacted the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986, the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed a voluntary accreditation program for two types of laboratory testing:  the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) Test Method, a test to determine the asbestos content in materials; and the Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) Test Method, for determining the presence and amount of asbestos in air samples.  To find an accredited lab in Georgia, visit http://ts.nist.gov/standards/scopes/plmtm.htm (PLM Test Method) and http://ts.nist.gov/standards/scopes/temtm.htm (TEM Test Method).  For more information about asbestos, visit http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos.

If you would like to talk with a government official about your potential asbestos problem, you should contact Georgia’s state asbestos consultant, Mindy Crean, by calling (404) 363-7043 or by e-mailing her at mindy.crean@dnr.state.ga.us.

Mold and Mildew

The CDC generally discourages people from testing any mold found in their home.  If mold is touched or smelled, there’s a potential health risk; therefore, if you believe you have mold, no matter what type, you should arrange for its removal.  Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.  If you do decide to pay for environmental sampling for molds, before the work starts, you should ask the consultants who will do the work to establish criteria for interpreting the test results.  The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area, or without considering the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.

For more information, you can go to the CDC’s website, or to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website:  www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.html.  To locate a reliable mold testing/remediation company, you can visit the Better Business Bureau’s site at www.bbb.org.

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Following foreclosure, can new owner raise tenant's rent?

May 14, 2013 17:54 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

The house we rent was foreclosed on and then sold by the bank. There are still 6 months left on the lease and the new owners want to raise the rent and get a new security deposit (even though our original deposit was not returned). Is this legal?  If not, whom should I contact to resolve the issue?              

Consumer Ed says: 

The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA), a federal law, specifically addresses your issue.  The PTFA was signed into law on May 20, 2009 and protects tenants when the property they rent is sold at a foreclosure sale.  The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act extended the PTFA protections until December 31, 2014.   Even though the PTFA is a federal law, it still applies to state court eviction proceedings.

If you originally entered into your lease before the notice of foreclosure, then the new owners bought the property subject to your rights as a tenant.  In other words, your lease did not end when the property was sold at foreclosure, and the new owners must recognize your original lease.  If the new owners will not use the house as their primary residence, then they must allow you to stay in the house and pay rent until the end of your original lease.  However, the new owners only have to give you 90 days’ notice to vacate the property if they are in fact going to occupy the house (you’d still have 90 days to vacate, even if there were less than 90 days remaining on your lease).

While you remain in the house (either for the remainder of your lease or for the 90 days), the new owners cannot raise your rent or require a new security deposit.  You will still have to pay rent, but you will pay the same rent required under your original lease to the new owners of the house.  If you don’t pay rent, the new owners can go to court to have you evicted; they can also have you evicted if you stay in the house after your lease expires (or after the 90 days’ notice period).
 
If the new owners continue to insist that you pay additional rent and/or an additional security deposit, you should contact an attorney to address your specific case.  The State Bar of Georgia (404-527-8700 or 800-334-6865) can give you information to help you locate an attorney, or you could contact your local Georgia Legal Services Program office (www.glsp.org).  You may also pursue an issue with your landlord on your own through the local magistrate court.  In the event you cannot afford an attorney, you may want to contact an organization that deals with landlord-tenant disputes, like Atlanta Legal Aid (www.atlantalegalaid.org).

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