January 06, 2014

Can I get out of my apartment lease due to serious mold problem?

Dear Consumer Ed:

I recently moved to a new apartment from out of state. I put in a service request with the property manager because the carpet in my son's room was very wet and smelled of mold. After looking at the apartment, the property manager realized that the mold issue was serious. I explained that I would be out of town for four days. She said when I returned I would have to move out immediately and that she would show me another unit. The problem is that they began the work the day before I returned home by knocking down the wall and exposing the mold. They were well aware that I had a dog in the house, and part of our agreement was to wait until I returned home before beginning the work. I am concerned about the effects that high exposure to this mold might have had on my dog. Also, who is responsible financially for moving me into another unit? Having just relocated to Georgia, I have no friends or family who can help me move. I called management to complain about the work being started before my return, but no one has called me back. At this point, I am so unhappy with the management here that I just want to get out of my lease. What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:

The first thing you may want to do is consult the Landlord-Tenant Handbook, which can be found on the Department of Community Affairs' website. The Handbook has a discussion of "constructive eviction", which may be a way for you to get out of your lease. There are two things necessary to show that there has been a constructive eviction:

  • the landlord's failure to repair has made the unit an unfit place for the tenant to live; and
  • the unit cannot be restored to a fit condition by ordinary repairs.

This is quite possibly what is going on with your apartment. Your landlord and/or its agent, the property management company, failed to make the repairs necessary to prevent a serious mold issue from developing; now, this mold problem is so extreme that you need to move to a different unit. However, your lease is for the specific unit into which you originally moved, not for a different unit. The property manager may be showing you other units as a convenience or so that he or she doesn't lose a rent-paying customer, but unless your lease specifies that you are obligated to accept a reasonable alternative apartment in the event of a constructive eviction, you may not be under any obligation to continue renting from this company. However, you should consult an attorney before taking any definitive action. With regard to the effect of the mold on your dog, you probably have no recourse unless your dog is acting differently than usual (not eating or drinking, sneezing/wheezing, listless, etc.). Limited natural exposure to mold spores is a part of everyday life, and is typically not a health threat. However, prolonged exposure to elevated levels of mold spores is what can cause a reaction in otherwise healthy individuals (animal or human). On the other hand, it's always possible that your dog could be hypersensitive to mold spores, and could experience serious health reactions despite only minor exposure to mold. Common reactions include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. If you believe your dog has become ill from the mold exposure, you should contact a veterinarian, and then, if the vet can confirm the dog's illness was caused by the mold, speak to an attorney to explore your options for legal action.

Related to: