Senate Bill 655: Visible Mold Growth Added as a Condition That Can Render a Dwelling as Substandard

The California state legislature recently (Approved by the Governor and Filed with the Secretary of State on October 9, 2015) adopted Senate Bill 655, which adds “visible mold growth” to a list of conditions that can render a dwelling as substandard.  The law provides that a violation, which previously included conditions such as lack of sanitation, lack of adequate heating, improper operating ventilation, etc., is a misdemeanor.  The bill provides that a “lessor (landlord) is not obligated to repair a dilapidation relating to mold, as specified, until he or she has notice of it or if the tenant is in violation of specified affirmative obligations.” The bill defines mold as “microscopic organisms or fungi that can grow in damp conditions in the interior of a building.”

The bill specifies that “visible mold growth, excepting mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their proper and intended use, is a type of inadequate sanitation, and therefore a substandard condition.  By expanding the definition of a crime, this bill imposes a state-mandated local program.”

What Does This Mean for Tenants and Landlords?

This means that while your landlord is not obligated to address the presence of visible mold growth unless they are aware of it, once they are made aware, “a landlord may enter a dwelling unit to repair a dilapidation relating to the presence of mold pursuant to paragraph (13) of subdivision (a) of Section 17920.3 of the Health and Safety Code.”

In the State of California in general and the City of Ventura in particular, Code Enforcement departments are now enforcing this new legislation by citing the owners of dwelling units with visible mold growth, and requiring remediation and restoration of mold affected areas.  The takeaway from this is that if a tenant contacts a landlord to address visible mold growth, it is in the best interest of the landlord to address the concern, before a tenant contacts code enforcement.  This will accomplish several things: 1) removal will help protect the health and physical belongings of the occupant, 2) it will preserve the owner’s investment by addressing the root cause of the visible mold growth, and 3) provide landlords with an opportunity to make tenants aware of their own practices that can actively contribute to visible mold growth.  In the absence of deficient structural conditions that are a landlord’s responsibility such as a roof or window leak or a broken pipe, there are many activities tenants do that can contribute to visible mold growth, such as keeping windows closed when cooking and not ventilating bathrooms after bathing.  It’s estimated that a family of four releases an average of three gallons of moisture into the air per day, simply by normal household activities.  In 2010, the Minnesota Blue Flame Gas Association listed some living habits that are principal sources of higher humidity in a home:

  • One person’s breathing produces 1/4 cup of water per hour.
  • Cooking for a family of four produces approximately five pints of water in 24 hours.
  • Showering puts 1/2 pint of water into the air.
  • Bathing puts 1/8 pint of water into the air.

Adding only four to six pints of water to the air raises the relative humidity in a 1,000 square foot home from 15% to 60%, assuming the temperature is constant.  Factors such as the ones listed above underscore the importance of increased ventilation and fresh air flow in households.  Awareness of these behaviors and how moisture in the home can be reduced through simple steps may be bad for the mold inspection business; however, following a few simple steps can lead to improvement in the overall health of building occupants, reduce maintenance costs to building owners, and contribute to the overall well-being of our community, which is a good thing!


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