Mold can be highly destructive to your buildings; highly toxic to your residents; and highly damaging to your profits, too.
While there is always a base level of mold in the air, letting a mold problem fester in your building can potentially cost larger property owners millions in repairs; lost income from uninhabitable units; and liability to tenants. In 1996, a Florida jury found a construction company liable for $14 million in damages as a result of construction defects that led to mold contamination. A Texas jury awarded a homeowner more than $32 million (later reduced to $4 million) from her insurance company over a mold-related claim.
Mold Prevention Challenges for Building Managers
The multi-family and high-rise environment poses some particular challenges:
- Maintenance on residential dwellings is often inadequate
- Management does not control ventilation inside units
- Mold can accumulate in vacant units unless managers are proactive
- Actions or neglect from one resident can affect many tenants
- Current landlords may inherit years of neglect and hidden mold problems from previous owners
So what can you do to prevent mold problems from occurring, or to remediate them once they’ve begun?
How to Prevent & Mitigate Mold Issues
Secure & Leak-Proof Building Exteriors
The battle against mold is ultimately a battle against moisture. You can take the following steps to protect your tenants, as well as your investment:
- Regularly clear debris from the roof and rain gutters
- Use landscaping to ensure that ground slope guides rainwater away from your building
- Deploy mold-resistant plastic (at least 6mm of polyethylene) between your building’s foundation and the surrounding topsoil; as well as in interior crawlspaces, especially at ground level. This creates a barrier to moisture seeping in from the ground.
Safeguard Your Staff Against Mold Exposure
Your maintenance crew needs to have the right tools to protect themselves against toxic mold, as well as to fight mold where it may appear. Failure to provide adequate protective equipment is a common OSHA violation, and you could face nasty fines that cost much more than the equipment does. At a minimum, provide your crew with the following:
- Mold-rated facemasks, an N-95 respirator, or similar
- Protective gloves made from nitrile, natural rubber, neoprene, polyurethane, or PVC
- Unventilated protective goggles
Note that OSHA rules also require employers to ensure that protective equipment fits properly.
Focus on Key Problem Areas for Mold Growth
Mold can accumulate anywhere, but the most common danger zones for residential buildings are well-defined:
- Washing machine hoses
- Shower tile grout and shower curtains
- Water heaters
- Windows (watch for condensation)
- Roof leaks
- Plumbing leaks (both under sinks and inside of walls)
- Rainwater leakage into basements, doorjambs, and entryways and the building foundation
Leverage Mold-Mitigating Technology
You can’t be everywhere at once—but with modern advances in low-voltage technologies, you can substantially improve your moisture management program:
- Invest in leak/moisture alarms in vulnerable areas, like near pipes, HVAC units, and water heaters. These are inexpensive, easy to install, and can integrate directly with your existing smart building technology.
- Connect fans, dehumidifiers, and A/C units to humidistats. These are devices that work similarly to thermostats, except they switch on your AC or vent fans when the relative humidity reaches a certain point. Mold begins to accumulate at 68% relative humidity; but for the best result, set your humidistats to 58%.
Hold Renters Accountable for Mold Issues
Tenants are the first line of defense against mold in their own homes. If your lease does not spell out who’s responsible for preventing and mitigating mold, start by adding a mold addendum to every agreement when it comes up for renewal. This helps to protect you in the event that their negligence causes damage; and it also preserves your right to evict in order to safeguard the property and other tenants. A number of sample mold addenda are available online; but you should consult an attorney who is licensed in your state before drafting your own.
It’s also a good idea to require all tenants to purchase renters insurance, which can protect both you and your tenants from the costs of mold damage.
Educate Tenants About Mold Risks & Prevention
Most people don’t want to live in a mold-contaminated environment. Enlist your tenants as your main defense against mold contamination by educating them. Here’s one example of an easy-to-understand educational resource that property managers can distribute to new and existing tenants.
Key points include:
- Maintaining acceptable indoor humidity levels
- How to spot condensation
- Running ventilation fans while showering, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc.
- How to report leaks or water damage
- Using hood ventilators when cooking
- How to shut off the water supply to an appliance if necessary
Don’t Rely on Insurance to Cover Mold Damage
Your landlord insurance policy is not designed to protect you from the cost of mold damage due to chronic neglect. If you allow mold to fester for months or years when you reasonably should have known that there was a problem, your insurance policy will likely not cover it, and neither will a standard flood insurance policy. It’s imperative to be vigilant and proactive about preventing and mitigating mold infestations wherever they occur.