For renters, mold can be a particularly tricky issue. Unlike a lot of other problems that tenants have to deal with—leaky toilets, broken heaters—it’s not always obvious if an apartment has a mold problem. And, even if you’ve spotted something growing behind the sink, it’s not necessarily mold. (Mildew is also gross, but is far less likely to affect your health.)
If you’re sure that your rental unit has a mold problem, then your landlord must address it. Mold produces allergens, irritants, and sometimes even toxic substances known as mycotoxins. Touching or even inhaling mold can lead to a range of health issues for allergic and non-allergic people alike. Depending upon the situation, the law may be on your side if you want to break your lease early because your landlord won’t deal with the mold.
Does the law protect me if my apartment has a mold problem?
Every state (except Arkansas) has an “implied warranty of habitability”—basically, a legal guarantee that your landlord will keep your rental unit in livable condition. This includes ensuring a healthy indoor air quality that is free of contaminants and toxins such as mold. In addition, states and cities often have building and health codes that require landlords to keep the premises in good repair. Some of these codes go as far as identifying mold as a common culprit. For example, San Francisco requires landlords to keep their buildings free of public nuisances, which includes “visible or otherwise demonstrable mold or mildew.”1 If your landlord fails to fix a mold problem, you may be entitled to break your lease if your apartment is no longer a healthy place in which to live.
Are there options to consider before breaking my lease?
Vacating your apartment early should be your last resort. You should start with less extreme options, such as hiring a professional to deal with the mold and deducting your expenses from your rent (a process known as “repair and deduct”). You may also be able to withhold some or all of your rent until the landlord addresses the mold problem.
If your lease is ending soon, and the mold issue is not severe, it may be easiest just to move out instead of renewing. Or, if you're on a month-to-month rental agreement, you can give your landlord one month’s notice before moving out.
How can I prevent my landlord from blaming me for the mold problem?
Legally, you’re not allowed to repair and deduct, withhold rent, or break your lease if you caused the mold problem. Make sure to promptly report spills and leaks to your landlord, and, if you do notice mold anywhere in your apartment, let your landlord know in writing before it becomes a more serious issue.
Keep records of any conversations you have with your landlord about a mold problem. Write down the date of all phone conversations and what was discussed, including any promises the landlord makes. It’s even better if you communicate in writing—make sure to save all emails, texts, or letters. Also, keep a written record of any doctor appointments and medical bills relating to possible symptoms from the mold. Finally, be sure to take photos of mold infestation with time-date stamps.
Why? They’ll be important if you ever end up in court. A tenant in North Carolina broke her lease because of a severe mold problem, and her landlord sued. At the trial, she presented convincing evidence in the form of pictures, documents, and testimony to show that her apartment was not only damaged but uninhabitable. As a result, the court determined she was justified in withholding rent—and, what’s more, was entitled to $4,015 in damages.2
How do I break my lease because of mold?
When you sign a lease, you’ve legally committed to paying your landlord rent for your apartment for the entire lease term. However, if your rental unit has a severe mold problem—and your landlord won’t fix it—then you may be able to claim that you’ve been constructively evicted and move out without owing any additional rent.
Constructive eviction is a complicated and tricky legal maneuver, however. To succeed, you must provide written notice to your landlord and give them a reasonable amount of time to address the mold issue. As mentioned earlier, keeping good documentation is essential in case you need to convince a judge that you acted properly in breaking your lease.
Also, your mold problem must be really serious to qualify for constructive eviction—or, as in a lot of successful constructive eviction cases, just one of many serious problems. An Ohio tenant on a month-to-month lease vacated her apartment early after a leak from her upstairs neighbor’s unit caused her ceiling to sag, soaked her carpet, and resulted in mold growths across her walls and floor. After the landlord charged her for unpaid rent, the tenant sued for compensation for property damage, moving expenses, and utility expenses. An appeals court ordered the landlord to pay the tenant $1,391.52 in damages.3
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.