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Who is Responsible for Mold Issues in California?

Landlords must take mold seriously, as it thrives in warm, damp places like basements and attics with poor ventilation. Mold can grow quickly and isn’t limited to wet climates—it can happen anywhere due to issues like spills or faulty plumbing.

If you manage a rental property in California, dealing with mold can lead to expensive cleanup, repairs, and potential lawsuits from tenants who believe it caused health problems. Keep reading to understand landlord responsibilities and tenant rights regarding mold in California rentals.

Landlords Liability for Mold in California

There’s currently no federal law addressing a landlord’s responsibilities regarding mold. In California, aside from disclosure requirements, there are no specific laws about a landlord’s duties for mold prevention and cleanup. In San Francisco, however, mold is considered a “public health nuisance,” giving tenants the right to sue landlords for violating city nuisance laws if they don’t remove visible mold inside buildings. California tenants who believe they’ve been harmed by high mold concentrations can seek damages from their landlord in court. If a court finds the landlord negligently caused or allowed the mold problem, they may be responsible for harm caused.

Mold Disclosure Requirement in California

In California, if you’re selling a residential building with up to four units, you must disclose in writing any known hazardous conditions, including mold (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1102-1102.17). 

For landlords, state law mandates providing tenants with a written disclosure, before signing a rental agreement, if they know or have reason to believe that mold exceeds safety limits or poses a health risk (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 26147). Even though permissible exposure limits can be established, the health department has determined it’s not practical to do so. 

In a statement from September 2011, the department emphasized that the mere presence of water damage, visible mold, or mold odor is considered a health threat. Unlike lead paint, federal law doesn’t require landlords to disclose mold issues. Apart from legal requirements,

Security Deposit Deductions for Mold Issues

If you (landlord) suspect that a departing tenant is responsible for a mold issue in an apartment or rental unit beyond normal wear and tear, you may consider deducting the cleaning cost from their security deposit. 

In California, landlords have the legal authority to do this as long as they provide the tenant with a written breakdown of the mold damage expenses, along with any other claimed damages, within 21 days of the lease termination. If the deducted amount is less than the security deposit, the landlord must return the remaining deposit to the tenant, along with written documentation detailing the deductions (Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.5(g)(1) (2022)).

What Happens if I Don’t Address Issues?

In California, tenants dealing with mold issues often opt for two legal approaches. The first is rent withholding, where tenants stop paying rent, arguing that the mold has made their place unlivable. It’s essential to note that landlords in California must ensure habitable living conditions, regardless of lease terms. The second strategy, called repair and deduct, allows tenants to handle mold cleanup independently and deduct the expenses from their rent.