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How should we go about removing mold in apartment?
January 3, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Moldy is fine in my hockey bag, but not in my apartment. What do I do?

A radiator in my apartment leaked steam unchecked for a while when my roommates and I were all home for winter break. When we came back, we found that the room had mold growing on 3 out of the 4 walls. None of us have ever had to deal with anything like this before!

We've already called and complained to the management of our building, but what exactly should we be asking them for? The management has a reputation for cutting corners when it comes to repairs if you don't dictate to the letter what they need to do. Should we try to force the management to give us some sort of timeline as to how all this will be fixed?

Is there also anything we can do right now to slow down the mold growth? We don't have any control over our heat but will just exposing the room to cold winter Chicago air help it from spreading as much?

Thanks in advance for helping 4 clueless college students!
posted by astapasta24 to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
 
Not sure how you should go ahead with your management - you should perhaps include that it is a potential health risk and should this mold growth go unchecked by the management and any of you develop illness that could be related or exacerbated by it you will sue. ...Landlords tend to be all over the place, though. They may never fix it.

In terms of what you can do, instead of worrying about temperature, worry about moisture and air movement. Try getting an air filter or dehumidifier. Spraying your walls with vinegar or baking soda may help, but these really only go so far.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:46 PM on January 3, 2011


If you live in a large apartment complex, perhaps they can move you to a vacant unit while they are repairing your apartment and dealing with your damaged property. If not, you may be entitled to be put up in a hotel. Mold can be very dangerous, so don't just hang around breathing it. Call a local tenant's rights organization in the morning.
posted by Scram at 10:18 PM on January 3, 2011


How much mold are we talking about here? A few patches around the radiator or a new green shag carpet on your walls?

Depending on how extensive it is (and how unresponsive your management is) Lysol sprayed on the walls, exposure to sunlight and cold and dry air is your best bet.

A bleach solution is more effective at killing the mold, but then you've go the odor and staining to worry about.

If things are really funky, a fungicide (from a cleaning supply shop) is the heavy duty solution.

During any of these treatments, you're probably not going to want to be around for several hours, at least not without good ventilation.
posted by fontophilic at 10:35 PM on January 3, 2011


Check out the US EPA's page on mold, including their report on mold in homes. It basically says that any cleanup larger than 3' x 3' should be done by professionals. But if my alternative was to wait for a professional while living amidst mold, I'd probably put on some old clothes, open all the windows, get some old rages, wipe down the walls, then spray them with Lysol, meanwhile trying not to track or spread it anywhere (e.g., don't get it on the pages of your open textbook nearby as you brush it off). Then throw the rags away and wash my clothes with bleach. As others say, the key to stopping it from spreading is drying the area out, so think about fans.

Long term -- is the mold coming from behind the drywall, or on the surface? If behind the drywall, and it grew through it that quickly, I'd probably move out. Does the place permanently have a musty smell? You don't want the risk that comes from living in a place where you get chronic mold exposures. If you won't move out, you need to be very clear that the source of the water needs to be addressed. If three walls now have significant mold, particularly if it came from behind and grew throught the drywall, they need to redo that drywall and address the leaks behind the walls. (Here's where the fact that they don't seem to care about doing a good job at building maintenance makes me suspect that they'd never succeed at finding some roof or siding leak that had dripped down to impact my wall.) You should ask to examine behind the drywall before they replace it, ideally on a rainy day, to see for yourself that it's nice and dry and clean back there. On the other hand, if it's just the kind of thin skim of mold that you get on a shower curtain, on the outside of the walls, that's a slightly different story. Myself I'd still replace the drywall, but I guess I don't know if you'd need to.
posted by slidell at 10:58 PM on January 3, 2011


Have you considered calling the health department?

www.cityofchicago.org/health

I know someone who works in the health department in LA and they definitely will fine the landlord if they do not fix these types of issues quickly. You should call them and see if they will come out if you cannot get your landlord to come and look at it. Your landlord will be on top of it when you have the city aware of your problem.
posted by barnacle fan at 1:19 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


In many states, you have the right to escrow a portion of your rent until the damage is fixed. Naturally, if it's fixed quickly, this means unneeded work and cost for you (escrow accounts cost to set up), and the landlord could sue you for the money (which they are unlikely to win, if you release it in a timely fashion and don't escrow an undue amount) or charge you late fees (which might require a trip to small claims to undo).

Basically, the amount escrowed should be the amount of the apartment that is unusable. Ruined bedroom = 100'/1100' of rent (using example numbers). If this represents a health hazard, and is in an area you can't block off, I'd guess that's 100% of the rent (but IANAL).

The ACLU and the bar in your locale can both point you toward public legal advice on rental law.

The law is on your side, but you have to work to make it do something for you.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:23 AM on January 4, 2011


How much mold are we talking about here? A few patches around the radiator or a new green shag carpet on your walls?

It's getting to becoming a greyish shag carpet in some areas.


Long term -- is the mold coming from behind the drywall, or on the surface? If behind the drywall, and it grew through it that quickly, I'd probably move out. Does the place permanently have a musty smell? You don't want the risk that comes from living in a place where you get chronic mold exposures.

How do I find out whether it's behind the drywall or on the surface?? Should I ask the landlord to call a mold inspection team to look at it or is that something they need to do anyway?
posted by astapasta24 at 6:29 AM on January 4, 2011


Sorry to be slow in getting back to you. Has the landlord responded yet?

How do I find out whether it's behind the drywall or on the surface??

Just look at it. Mold coming through from behind the drywall: image. Other mold will be less, part of the actual material. At a certain point, the question becomes fairly irrelevant. For instance, when the mold can be described as a "greyish shag carpet" really concerns me. One inch strands -- really?


I cannot speak to the health impacts of this (I'm not a mold expert), but I do know that health impacts accumulate over time. For instance, allergies can develop. That means that, regardless of whether this gets cleaned up, you don't want to stay in this apartment if it's likely that behind the walls is unaddressed mold. In general, with mold, you want to figure out whether the mold you're seeing is some new, temporary occurrence that will be satisfactorily cleaned up, or whether it's the tip of an iceberg.

Think of bread. If it starts to mold, some people will throw out the entire loaf. But some will just cut off the visible mold and say it's fine. But what happens if you cut off the visible mold in my experience is that mold bursts out across most of the loaf a day or two later.

In my mind, what you would expect to see with some steam or some spilled water would be some superficial drywall damage like bubbles or wrinkled paint, and maybe some superficial mold, like the pinkish or blackish mold that builds up around the bottom of your shower curtain if you do not wash it. Your house would be like a new loaf of bread, that would take a long time to develop mold. For it to develop so quickly into such a big problem suggests to me that there was a pre-existing problem -- some pre-existing history of decay that was a reservoir of dead/latent mold -- and that your house may be like a loaf of bread where someone just cut off the visible mold a day or two ago. Latent house mold would require moisture or high humidity to begin growing. But it could even be that mold is constantly growing behind the walls.

Not sure this helps. I'd minimize your exposure. Move anything you have that's porous like a mattress away from the walls. Make sure that the problem is completely cleaned up, potentially by insisting that a mold abatement specialist do the work. Those specialists will ensure that mold spores don't spread or contaminate your possessions by putting up containment barriers, scrub the mold off the wood, treat the wood with something like boric acid, and paint the wood with fungicidal paint.
posted by slidell at 1:28 PM on January 8, 2011


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