Is that Jackson Pollock? Nope! It's mold!
September 23, 2013 11:37 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible my moldy unit pushing my already run-down self over the edge? How much mold is too much? For how long?

There’s mold on our bedroom and living room ceilings (and light fixtures), and when I cleaned and painted our bedroom there was mold under the last few coats of paint (which peeled right off in spots, sometimes right to the plaster – the plaster is also separating from the drywall in spots). There is also mold on the ceiling and walls of our entryway, and the ceiling of the spare room responds like a marshmallow when you touch it. The mold in our bedroom covers about 25% of the ceiling, and in the living room there’s maybe a dozen or so patches the size of my hand (6” in diameter, approx). It is speckled, like Jackson Pollock had a go with black ink or black watercolour paint; it’s not fuzzy. It does not seem to be getting obviously worse now that spring’s come – but it’s not disappearing either. We initially tried to clean with mould killer, but it came *right* back with a vengeance (we immediately contacted the landlord). We have had other issues (electrical) with this (older) house. So far there is no mold on our belongings. We moved in in March, and by June had photographed ‘ongoing’ mold problems and started emailing the real estate agent who manages the property. He eventually came out and admitted it couldn’t possibly be our fault and that there might be a roof leak; said he’d send someone out and we haven’t heard anything since despite repeated emails etc…

We lodged with the Tenancy tribunal to get a repair court-ordered, but we didn’t get the court date notice and they dismissed our case (ugh) when nobody showed up; they’ve said we likely have grounds to terminate, which would put the onus on them to prove the place was in perfect condition when we moved in (ROTFL) if they wanted to seek any compensation from us. (We’re in Sydney.) Right now we’re sort of the mindset of just waiting until our lease is up or almost up (March 2014), but I’m getting increasingly weary.

Husband has asthma and was wheezy, but it’s been better since I scrubbed, primed, and painted the bedroom walls (with permission).
I was visiting my family overseas for July, but have felt increasingly crummy since I got home – seems like maybe some hormone fluctuations (thanks PCOS), combined with known iron deficiency anaemia and ‘generally being run down’ (lingering cold, yeast infection, tired all the time). I’ve seen a therapist (who agrees that I seem run down more than depressed - I’ve been super moody, too – but hey, life is a lot when you’re fatigued all the time!), and have a doctor’s appointment in a few weeks. Obviously, I will mention the mold to her and see what she says. (Weeks when you’re fatigued feel like forever.)

Just trying to get a feel for:
• if/when/how urgently we should bail and terminate + move and
• whether or not I’m being melodramatic about this

posted by jrobin276 to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That level of mold is from an ongoing leak. I have a VERY difficult time believing this is unknown to the owner.

I know nothing about laws in your jurisdiction. Where I am, the city will come out, inspect, and test the mold. Testing the mold for type is important! Here you simply call in a complaint.

You should get moving on this issue now, don't wait for your doctor's appointment.

Is it possible to file for another hearing?

I know you're fatigued, but you're being kinda lax about this. By the time the plaster is mushrooming and puffy, you've got active leaks that need to be immediately addressed.

Here is the states, housing inspectors can order remidiation where the structure is stripped back to the studs if the mold is bad enough. I've heard of houses being condemned, too, but only anecdotally.

It's not uncommon for landlords to ignore this for as long as possible, but is a little foolish because water damage is cheaper to fix when addressed early. This is why I think the owner knows, but doesn't want to address the issue.

Can you get a building inspector from your jurisdiction in?

Leaks can cause ceilings to cave in, too.

Start making calls. Where I am, the fire department, along with building inspectors, have the ability to evacuate or outright condemn homes and apartment buildings. I think you should start making calls and find out what authorities you can get involved.

Your first step, however, is to get remter's insurance if you don't already have it.
posted by jbenben at 12:09 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would terminate and move; although it's a pain I think the odds are you'll have least problems that way. It seems to me your relationship with your landlord has the makings of a long, stressful saga and you'd do well to cut it short if you can
posted by Segundus at 12:41 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's past time to leave. Husband has asthma? GTFO

Your landlord is a jerk. DTMFA
posted by BlueHorse at 12:55 AM on September 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: We can re-file, but by the time we get orders issued and something (or nothing) happens, our lease will be up anyway. It takes forever. I work for Council, and I see how hard it is to enforce orders... I'll ask one of the building inspectors I work with.

We have renter's insurance.

Picture here.

I have asthma too, can't tell if my current wheezing is mold or hay fever though.
Thanks everyone! Promise not to threadsit. Anyone else who wants to chime in though please do... it's good for morale ;)
posted by jrobin276 at 1:25 AM on September 24, 2013

For the official version, your current wheezing is mold; you need no doctor for that.

Also: Those pictures look terrible, I'd be worried big time.
posted by Namlit at 1:57 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is only going to get worse, you know that, right? With summer how it is, it's just going to make it explode horribly. You need to call the real estate, daily. Email and cc managers and admin and anyone you can. Urgent tenancy interventions are around, contact the RTA and tell the managers that's what you're doing.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:36 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had allergies but no asthma, moved into an apartment with a bit of mold in the bedroom, and now I have a diagnosis and need to use an inhaler morning and evening. It's pretty shitty - and we had less mold than you guys seem to, limited to one room, and a landlord who arranged to repaint the whole place ASAP and has followed up with another coat of mold-kill paint when we were concerned we might be seeing the beginning of another outbreak.

In the spirit of moral support - if you can, just get out of there, for your own sake. The longer you stay the worse things will get, and it's not worth that wheezing turning into a chronic condition you'll never be rid of. If you have to stay for any length of time, I would recommend an air purifier with a HEPA filter. I could not have done without it when we were waiting for our landlord to deal with the mold.
posted by harujion at 2:42 AM on September 24, 2013

We had good luck pursuing the Tribunal for other landlord-related issues and they were very fair. I know they take mould very seriously. You might try to pursue re-lodging with them. That could get you out of your lease sooner. You might also consult The Redfern Legal Centre to see if they know what your options are. They were helpful in advising us, though we didn't use their services beyond the initial consultation about how to approach the tribunal. They might have some good advice. I'm pretty sure they serve anyone in the City of Sydney.

FWIW, I would not stay in a mould-infested unit, and I might just take the chance on breaking the lease, with one month's notice, on the gamble that it would be unlikely that they would pursue losses, if you have proof of the state of the unit and the fact that they have done nothing for months. Document everything (it sounds like you have already been doing so) and create a log of all the communications you've had with your landlord about the problem. I know someone else who went through the tribunal on a mould-related problem and they were awarded damages for the cost of their move and pain and suffering. You are right that it does take a while, but I believe they can make a retroactive judgment. The Legal Centre can probably steer you in the right direction.
posted by amusebuche at 5:38 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The correct way to fix this mold is by removing the damaged areas of the walls/ceilings (bad mold eats away at drywall and I'm sure this is much worse on the inside of the walls -- mold is like an iceberg and you're only seeing what's above the surface), repairing whatever is leaking, replacing most of the drywall/plaster in the ceilings and walls, repainting, etc. So say, best-case scenario, they fixed it properly tomorrow -- do you *want* to be around for that level of repair? No.

And frankly, given that they have this level of mold already, I suspect they won't fix it properly. Any half-assed fixes they do could also expose you to other hazards, like lead paint dust or asbestos.

geek anachronism is 100% right that this is only going to get worse as the summer warms up. This looks like an older flat, so I'm assuming you don't have central air. Without AC keeping the temp in the low 70s F or below, this is going to be crazy moldy -- and it can happen over a weekend, really, that quickly. (I do some mold work for my day job, and at one point I toured a hotel where they had two floors with two separate maids. One maid left the AC on in the units when she was done cleaning, and the other maid turned them off. Guess which floor had crazy no-breathing mold growth? Yup.)

If I were in your situation I would 100% get out as soon as you possibly can. Call your local building/safety/code/tenant's rights office(s)/talk to your friend the building inspector and find out what the best way to do that is.

Also, when you do move, make sure you wash 100% of your bedding, curtains, towels, pillow covers, upholstery covers (where possible), etc. as you move to remove the allergens.
posted by pie ninja at 5:42 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

In case you don't know about it, the Tenants Union is also potentially a good source of info and advice - - if you put in your postcode it will give you the details for a local tenancy advice service. If you are feeling like the wheels of Fair Trading turn too slowly, it might still be good to get an opinion about how to break your lease without getting burned financially.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:57 AM on September 24, 2013

I have a mold allergy, and that level of mold would make me very, very ill. Nthing 'get out asap'. It's only going to get worse, and mold can have serious, lasting effects on your health, even without an allergy or preexisting asthma.
posted by carolinecrane at 6:10 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go see a doctor to find out if the lung damage is temporary, and how long it will take to resolve once you get out. You may have a case for damages.
posted by theora55 at 10:34 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do not mess around with mold. Feeling fatigued and wheezing is not necessarily a minor thing.

Spend as little time inside as is possible. In your shoes, I might even consider couch surfing.

Also, clean everything you own when you move.

I am very angry on your behalf, if that helps.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:01 PM on September 24, 2013

oh dear Dog. You need to go, yesterday. I don't even want to think about what's behind that drywall.
posted by Dashy at 6:23 PM on September 24, 2013

Definitely not overreacting! I do think that waiting till March is a bad idea - the damp is probably not going to get better in that time, and you don't want your house to be making you sick for another six months. The options, then, are either getting it fixed (possibly difficult) or leaving (probably easier).

It sounds like you're probably aware of all this, but: the landlord has an obligation to keep the premises in good repair and fit for habitation. Clause 18 of your lease has the landlord promising "to make sure that the residential premises are reasonably clean and fit to live in". Mouldy and making you sick is not fit to live in.

Depending on the nature of the electrical problem, that might count as an urgent repair that you can pay to have fixed yourself and then get the landlord to reimburse you.

The landlord's failure to get repairs done, when you've notified them and given them time to get them fixed, is probably a breach of the lease, which means you could probably give them 14 days notice and leave, if you have somewhere to go. There are some details here under 'Breach by the landlord'.

I'd be inclined to write a strongly worded (snail mail) letter spelling out the problem, the health hazard, details of the times you've told the real estate agent and/or the landlord about the problem and they've promised to fix it, and giving them a date by which to fix it or you will be terminating your lease.

Fair Trading can give you more advice about this - I know the CTTT can be a bit slow, but the Fair Trading information centre on 13 32 20 has people who can talk you through your options. Fair Trading also takes complaints about certain matters - they may be able to take a complaint about your situation and negotiate with the agent and/or the landlord on your behalf.

For more confirmation that you're not overreacting, here's a tenants' union fact sheet on mould and a CTTT ruling relating to someone's mould problem.

Good luck! I have a bit of background in this stuff so MeMail me if you need more info.
posted by escapepod at 6:14 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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