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Tenant's Rights Regarding Maintenance

 Over the years our office has received a great number of calls from tenants living in housing with water damage and visible mold issues which, for various reasons, the property management either ignors or does not properly resolve.  In response to this issue our office has made efforts to bring the problem to the attention of the Idaho State Legislature for review. There are no real laws in the State of Idaho which apply protection for tenants occupying sub-standard and damaged housing nor are their any real consequences for property owners who do not adequately maintain their rental properties.  The following is taken from a letter submitted to members of the state legislature:

     "In many cases one or more members of the family experience health issues which are mold-related. 

Usually they have seen a physician who suggests they have an inspection or testing for mold issues.     

In the past twelve years I had only two instances where the landlord was interested in having aninspection

done and having the mold removed professionally.  Sadly when many tenants mention the word “mold” to

their landlord or property manager one of three things occur:

1) a “handy man” is sent in who has no expert knowledge in properly mitigating severe water damages

or remediating mold and proceeds to just patch over the problem; even then the bottom line is saving money

for the property owner and repairs are done as cheaply as possible.

2) the tenant is ignored until the property owner tires of repeated complaints and has the tenants evicted or

3) the tenant ends up living with the problem until their lease is up; they move out and someone else moves

in with the existing conditions still unrepaired.    

I am fully aware that there are cases where a tenant simply wants to get out of a lease and makes false claims

in order to do so.  I believe from experience that these cases are minimal as compared to tenants with actual

structural and air quality issues which affect housing to the point that by normal standards the living spaces are

uninhabitable.  I would like to share several recent cases with you which illustrate the severity of the situation.

Tonya Meyers, mother, nurse, and cancer survivor:  The tenant called my office in tears and close to being

hysterical.  Due to her illness she is at great risk if exposed to mold contamination. She was desperately

looking for someone who would help her and her family.  She, her husband, and children had experienced

severe illness beginning shortly after moving into a rental home in Boise.  Since she was being treated for

cancer and immune-deficient she asked the landlord if there had ever been any mold issues with the property

and he responded that there were none.  When symptoms began to appear as respiratoryailments she did

seek help from physicians who told her the illnesses could be related to mold contamination.  She submitted

her concerns to the landlord who did not respond.  After several months her husband, Kelly, developed chronic

asthma which caused him to lose his job due to absences.   In talking with a neighbor she was told that there

had been a large water damagethat affected the home at one time but they did not know the details.  The

tenant became so ill that she had to be hospitalized on two separate occasions.  The family dogs began to

lose their hair.  Her son had sinus problems; she took him to a physician who removed a ten inch long growth

from his nasal cavity.  She became so concerned with the health and safety of her children that she sent them

to live with other family members.  Since they were under a lease they could not move out without being

responsibleto still pay rent.  They continued to make the landlord aware of the situation with no response.  It

came to the point that they were living in a hotel and just going to the house to get clothing and necessities. 

It was at this point that she called my office asking for help.  My company obtained air samples from the

interior of the house.  Test results indicated the highest level we have ever seen for several types of mold growth

including a marker mold, rarely foundanywhere, which indicates a serious mold issue when found indoors. 

Results showed that two mold types of extreme concern found in the inside were not even present in the sample

obtained from outside; Test results and a report including analysis andrecommendations were made available to

the tenant which she could give to the landlord which she did. Soon after they went to see the landlord to pay the

rent and try to get him to look into the problems; he refused to acknowledgethat anything was wrong and did not

accept the rent money.  Later they were served with a court documents; the landlord was having them forcibly evicted. 

She called me after they were settled in another house and told me that the landlord had the property up for rent

again. 

Colt Hamon, single male, worker: The tenant called my office asking if he could send me photos of several

problems in his rental house and if he could schedule an inspection for visible mold.  He had contacted the

landlord many times and even had written a letter that was notarized detailing the structural issues and mold

growth and a request for the landlord to fix the problems. The landlord had ignored the petition for repairs.  Our

company inspected the structure and found visible mold and several code violations.  At one time the water

heater had broken; instead of pulling it out for repairs the owner had a handy man just cut a hole in the wall to

reach the water heater part that needed work and repaired it from there; the hole has not been patched but is

left in case they need to work on it again.  The structure lookslike it was originally an out building that has been

renovated into a rental.  The dryer vent is a metal pipe that extends directly up from the dryer ducting and we

believe it is venting out into the attic which is most likely contributing to mold growth in that area  as well.  The

dryer stopped drying the clothes because the pipe is clogged with lint (a fire hazard) so the tenant put a nylon

stocking over the ventso he could at least dry his clothes.  There is baseboard heat in the structure but many

of the heaters do not work and one smokes when in use so the tenant uses a small electrical space heater to

heat the interior.  There is visible water damage and mold growth in the bedrooms; the walls were checked for

moisture and are saturated in several areas. The mold growth is coming from inside the walls and is made worse

from the clothes dryer venting out into the interior causing some condensation.  The windows are single pane and

had heavy condensation at the time of inspection.  Our company did obtain a surface sample for testing which verifies

the presence of a mold type that can cause respiratory illnesses.  We have made a report and recommendations

available to the tenant to give to his landlord.  He is very worried though; the landlord has the same last name as the

people he works for and he is afraid that if the landlord becomes angry with him over this that he will not only be evicted

but will lose his job too.  

Laura Woodall, mother, suffers from Scleroderma (an auto-immune disease):  The tenant called our office at the

recommendationof her physician.  Due to her illness she is at great risk if exposed to mold contamination and is currently

required to use respiratory equipment ordered by her doctor. the tenant keeps an incredibly clean home. 

Our inspection of her rental home found visible mold growth under the flooring and behind drywall in her bathroom;

there is no fan for ventilation in the bathroom.  The crawl space is the main issue. A large amount of rodent feces indicates

an infestation of mice.  There are old moldy blankets and other debris in the crawl space. Some of the ground is exposed

which allows ground moisture to condensate.  The dryer is venting into the crawl space which is supply excessive moisture. 

Since mold spores exist everywhere and the crawl space is full of cellulosic food sources (wood surfaces, lint from the dryer,

blankets & debris) the moisture provides all that is needed for the mold to grow and propagate.  The HVAC is not sealed tightly

so it is venting the mold spore contaminated air up into the main level. This air also includes the particulates from the rodent

feces which can contain the Hanta Virus.  The foundation vents are covered with cardboard (another food source for mold)

so there is no adequate ventilation to assist inexpelling some of the contaminated air from the crawl space; instead it has

created a vacuum effect.  We have provided the tenant with a report, test results, and recommendations for her to give to the

landlord.

  These are just a few cases out of many.  Usually when we cannot help tenants who call I send them out information

taken from the Attorney General’s Handbook regarding Landlord and Tenant Issues along with the names of several attorneys.

Unfortunately most tenants are renting because they do not have enough money to purchase a home therefore they do not have

the money to hire an attorney to take their case.  They have no options and no one to help them.  The handbook states that it

is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain the structural integrity of the property by making necessaryrepairs etc.  But

there is no way of making sure this is done.  The health department informed me that they cannot  help these people.  The

person I spoke with said the department has  not enough funding or personnel to do inspections and testing to ensure the

health and safety of tenants in rental housing. '

Representatives I have contacted are interested in seeing something come of this and have asked to be kept in the loop:

Rep. Marv Hagedorn   Rep. Christy Perry    Rep. Shirley Ringo   Rep. Phylis K. King,

Sen. Shawn Keough    Sen. Elliot Werk       Sen. Chuck Winder


 

UPDATE ON LEGISLATIVE EFFORT


Mold Inspection Services has since received word that the various County Health Departments are actually responsible for inspecting, sampling, and testing mold affected housing for tenants.  This issue is being addressed further by members of the Idaho State Legislature.  We would suggest tenants contact the representatives for their district.  Please contact our office for additional information that will serve as a guide in dealing with these issues.

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More Help For Tenants

 

Information taken from:

 

 Office of the Attorney General

Landlord and Tenant Guidelines APRIL 2011

THE LANDLORD’S DUTY TO KEEP THE PROPERTY SAFE AND HEALTHY

 

Landlords must maintain the premises to protect a tenant’s safety and health. In that regard, landlords must comply with city and county ordinances and state laws regarding housing conditions.

The following are examples of housing conditions that constitute violations:

• Structural deterioration, including cracked and crumbling walls and ceilings and broken or missing doors and windows;

• Defective plumbing, including a broken toilet, lack of hot/cold water, absent sinks or bathing facilities and serious leaks;

• Exposed wiring;

• Nonfunctioning heating units;

• No means to remove or store garbage;

• Insect infestations;

• Leaking roof or walls from insufficient waterproofing or weather protection; and

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• Dismantling or not installing smoke detectors.

THE TENANT’S REMEDIES WHEN THE LANDLORD FAILS TO MAINTAIN THE RENTAL PROPERTY

Notice of Violation

To require the landlord to maintain the property, the tenant first must provide the landlord with a written list of the violations. The tenant can deliver the notice in any of the following ways:

a. In person;

b. By certified mail; or

c. By leaving it with an employee at the landlord’s usual place of business.

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Three-Day Rule

The landlord has three days to fix the violation. Failure to do so allows the tenant to sue the landlord to force compliance.

Service

The landlord must receive a copy of the summons and complaint at least five days before the trial.

The Trial

The trial is held within 12 days of the complaint being filed, unless the tenant requests a later date.

Court’s Order

If the tenant wins, the judge will order the landlord to comply with the tenant’s notice of violation. The judge also may order the landlord to pay the tenant’s court costs and attorney fees.

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Personal Injuries

A tenant who has suffered injuries from a landlord’s failure to maintain the property may sue for damages. If the tenant wins, the judge may require the landlord to pay three times the tenant’s damages, along with the tenant’s attorney fees and court costs.

THE TENANT’S RESPONSIBILITIES FOR SAFEGUARDING THE PROPERTY

The tenant must safeguard the rental property and ensure that damage does not occur. Typical tenant responsibilities include:

• Keep the property clean and sanitary;

• Properly dispose of garbage;

• Use appliances, electrical fixtures and plumbing facilities properly;

• Prevent family and friends from damaging the property;

• Obey the landlord’s property regulations and use the property for only lawful purposes; and

• Prevent injury to others due to actions performed on the tenant’s property.

SPECIAL PROPERTY ISSUES

The Consumer Protection Division regularly receives inquiries from consumers about how they can resolve disputes with their landlord regarding the provision of utility services, the presence of mold in the rental unit and the availability of assigned parking spaces.

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