I moved into my apartment during the summer. There’s a coat closet by the door and I hung some coats and such in there, but obviously I didn’t need them during the warm months and didn’t really think about it. As it started to get colder, I went to get a coat out and realized there’s a lot of mold growing in that closet. It’s basically ruined a couple of my coats, and now I can’t use that closet really. Can I make my landlord clean it up?
Full Question and Answer
First of all—gross! We feel your pain… Unfortunately, in most parts of the country, the law isn’t really all that clear on whether you or your landlord are responsible for mold. A few states, including California and Texas, have enacted state-wide regulations for dealing with mold indoors. There are also a few cities, such as New York and San Francisco, that have their own specific guidelines for removing mold and maintaining indoor air quality.
In some cases, a mold problem would trigger something called the implied warranty of habitability, which basically requires your landlord to maintain your apartment so it’s a safe and healthy place for you to live. But only major repairs are legally required—things that render your apartment uninhabitable until they’re fixed. In your case, the inability to use a small coat closet hardly makes your apartment unlivable.
The other thing to keep in mind is that implied warranty only comes into play if the problem occurred through no fault of your own. There could be any number of reasons mold grew in the closet. For example, it may have an exterior wall and not be well-insulated (since it’s only a closet, not a living area). Your keeping the door closed may have exacerbated the situation by not allowing proper air flow and ventilation to the area. The coats may have been a bit damp when you hung them up, particularly if you’d had them in storage before you moved as well. Given all these factors, your landlord is likely to blame you for the mold growth, leaving you responsible for repairing any damage to the walls or floor in the closet as well.
Given you’ve discovered mold growing in the closet though, you should also check other areas of your apartment—especially other closets or corners that don’t have a lot of ventilation—and make sure it’s not growing in other places as well. You also want to let your landlord know about the problem immediately, so you can discuss ways to correct the issue before it gets any worse. Mold removal on hard surfaces can be as simple as cleaning with bleach, but mold spores in carpet are more difficult to remove and can spread rapidly.
Also keep in mind that your landlord is never going to be responsible for damage to your personal property. If we’re talking about designer coats or expensive furs, you might consider filing a claim with your renter’s insurance (which of course you have). But if all that’s at stake here are a couple of pea coats, it won’t do anything more than eat part of your deductible, so you might as well chalk the loss up to a learning experience.