Mold is a word no property owner wants to hear. But mold happens, and it can be a major problem for property managers and landlords. Mold is sometimes hard to detect and costly to eliminate. But tenants are vulnerable to health issues caused by mold spores within the property and since landlord-tenant laws require you to maintain a safe, healthy environment for renters, it’s important to catch mold in rental units and take immediate remediation steps.

How to tell if your property has a mold problem

If a mold problem exists in your rental property, early detection is vital to your tenants’ health. Unfortunately, the presence of mold may not be apparent to the naked eye, which makes detection difficult in many instances.

Microscopic mold spores exist naturally anywhere in a home, but it becomes a health issue when signs of settling and growth become Moisture ad dampness contributes to mold growth, and when those conditions exist, the property can be a breeding ground for mold development. Concentrate on moist, damp areas when inspecting for mold, paying attention to these signs to detect its presence before it can develop into a serious problem. Focus on those kinds of areas when looking for mold and pay attention to the following signs to detect mold before it becomes much more serious.

  •  Visible, dark spots appear on porous surfaces exposed to moisture.Dark, inexplicable spots on floors, walls, ceilings, carpets, and fabrics are most likely mold.
  •  A musty smell inside the unit. Mold has a pungent, musty, mildew-like odor. Even in the absence of visible mold, it the unit has a strong smell you can’t identify check to see if mold is the source. It may be hidden behind walls
  •  Tenants complain of cold or allergy-like symptoms: Mold could be present in a unit if the tenants exhibit cold or allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red or irritated eyes, skin, throat, or nose irritation.  eyes, shortness of breath,  be present if your renters are complaining of hay-fever-like symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, rash, shortness of breath, or irritated eyes, skin, throat, or nose.

Inspect areas most exposed to moisture, such as basements and attics. Generally, basements are the dampest spaces of a structure and have less exposure to light, which creates a mild-friendly environment.  Inspect the attic, where a leaky roof could be inviting mold growth. Bathroom ceilings can also harbor moisture from showers, promoting mold growth whether or not a fan or window exists. Inspect HVAC ductwork HVAC regularly as it can easily circulate mold spores. Mold also thrives on dusty surfaces and in condensation from an A/C coil or defective dehumidifier.

If the rental unit or property has experienced flooding or water damage in the past, the risk of mold growth is increased. Mold spores need moisture to grow. Perform a thorough inspection of areas that may have leaks, water damage, dampness.

What is the difference between mold removal and remediation?

As mentioned earlier, microscopic mold spores normally exist almost everywhere, which means complete removal unfeasible. Mold spores float in the air and can settle on any surface. However, when spores settle in a humid environment, they’re more able to establish a potentially damaging colony. The process of clean-up once the spores have colonized is deemed remediation, which means restoring the spores to normal/natural levels. Removal and remediation are often used interchangeably. However, it’s important for property managers and landlords to know what they mean

Steps to take when removing a mold Infestation

If mold is visible on a surface, it must be remediated. Visible mold growth does not belong in any tenant environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends removing all types of mold, so pre-testing the spores to see what kind of mold it is or the concentration is not worth the time and money involved unless you need specific data for proof or negotiation if you’re purchasing the property or submitting an insurance claim.

Mold cleanup can be a relatively easy process if you’re a proficient DIY-er or enlist the services of a capable property management team. You don’t need to hire a professional mold remediator, especially if the mold is limited to a small area. However, it’s important to understand when mold can be simply cleaned off of a surface or when a wall, ceiling, or floor should be completely torn out and replaced.

For mold formation on bathroom tiles and grout can be easily and efficiently cleaned with a mold and mildew cleaning product such as Tilex. Replace caulking inexpensively with supplies available at any hardware store. Once mold has infested porous building materials like drywall, insulation, baseboards, and carpet, these materials are impossible to salvage and inexpensive to replace. To remediate these areas, perform a demo limited to the affected areas and a full replacement of the materials. Never simply cover affected areas with new materials—always remove and replace.

The following steps should be taken for thorough mold remediation:

  •  Fix the water or moisture problem that caused mold to colonize: Halt whatever caused the moisture to spread. Repair a leaky pipe, install a vent, run a dehumidifier in the basement, seal a crack in the foundation—do whatever it takes to stop the source of moisture accumulation. Without fixing the problem head-on, mold will quickly repopulate, and your remediation efforts will be wasted.

  •  Wear protection: Make sure to wear gloves, a protective mask, and goggles during the remediation process. Wear old clothing that can be discarded once you’re done. Run a box fan to circulate fresh air.
  •  Seal the room that contains the mold you’re remediating off from the rest of the property: Isolate the contaminated area, close all doors and windows in other rooms of the unit or property, cover all doorways to the contaminated room with plastic sheeting and seal the seams and slip opening entrances of the sheeting with duct tape.
  •  Moisten moldy materials to spores from spreading: Prevent the spread of dust and airborne spores by first misting the contaminated area.
  •  Remove contaminated materials: Use a screwdriver to make an opening in moldy walls and use a utility knife to remove contaminated carpets in sections. Clean up any debris with a wet-dry vacuum. To be safe, remove a little more material than was affected.

Bag materials removed immediately: Use 6 mil thick plastic trash bags to discard wet and contaminated materials and securely tie the bags closed. Wipe the sealed bags down with a damp cloth soaked in a detergent solution before removing them from the contaminated area. Dispose of the cloths afterward.

  •  Clean surfaces: Scrub moldy non-porous and wood surfaces with a wire brush and wipe clean with disposable anti-microbial wipes. Next, mix a quart of water and a half cup of bleach and use a soft brush to re-scrub the surfaces with the bleach mixture. After re-scrubbing with the bleach mixture, wipe the surfaces but do not rinse them—this allows the bleach to kill the surface mold.
    •  Dry out and clean up: Discard all supplies (including your clothes and the box fan) in heavy-duty 6 mil trash bags once you’re finished. Use a fan or dehumidifier to dry the cleaned materials and/or surfaces.
  •  Replace all materials you’ve removed: Make sure to replace or repair any drywall, carpeting, insulation, curtains, baseboards, window sills, and molding you’ve removed.
  •  If you don’t have a professional property management team, call in a professional maintenance crew to clean the entire unit: Instruct the maintenance team to disinfect every room in the unit.

For additional in-depth information, view the CDC’s mold remediation resource hub, which includes mold clean-up tips, a post-disaster clean-up guide, an instruction chart on when to use bleach, advice on what-to-wear, what supplies you’ll need, creating shopping lists, a condensation prevention guide, and more.

Information for hiring mold remediation professionals

Sometimes, a mold problem may be bigger than you feel comfortable tackling yourself. In this case, you may decide to bring in professional help. If you’re allergic to mold or the contamination is caused by a particularly toxic type of mold, remediation is not something you should attempt yourself.

Depending on the size of the remediation project, professional remediation can run more $1,000. Make sure to get quotes from fully licensed and insured mold remediation contractors before hiring a contractor—and make sure they’re fully licensed and insured. Mold professionals must have the appropriate training, licensing, and verifiable proof of liability and workers comp insurance. Additionally, experience is critical. You want to bring in professionals who have been in business for a long time, are prepared for any situation and know exactly how to handle your project.

A professional mold remediator should be able to explain the problem and their plan of action simply and clearly. If you speak to someone who advertises expert services but is unable to explain the basic processes or tries to intimidate you with scare stories, move on to another contractor. Another red flag is a contractor who guarantees full removal. A professional service can only remediate the problem.

Professionals remediators should also follow all of the steps explained above and manage the project with utmost caution and safety. Professionals will also perform a thorough cleanup of the affected space and air. One benefit of enlisting mold remediation professionals is their use of professional equipment such as HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) air scrubbers, HEPA vacuums, and commercial-strength dehumidifiers.

Preventing mold growth

The key to preventing mold colonization and growth is to prevent moisture intrusion, Ask your tenants to report any leaks or water damage as soon as they notice it to allow you to take fast action to remediate the affected areas. You may also want to include language in your lease that requires tenants to report water damage immediately. You may want to consider whether it makes sense to install a water leak detection system that alerts you to any kind of leak. Quick action to address any type of damp surroundings, you can halt the growth of mold before it has an opportunity to spread.

After completing mold remediation, for example in a bathroom or attic, be sure that the space is properly ventilated using a fan or dehumidifier, so the problem won’t return. Repaint affected surfaces as well as all other surfaces in the unit with paint containing a mildewcide additive to prevent the growth of surface mold. Use pigmented shellac to properly seal wood surfaces or an oil-based primer, particularly if the wood exterior-facing.

As a rental property owner or manager, mold is an issue you never want to experience. Preventative maintenance that includes regularly scheduled inspections is key to avoiding potentially costly and time-consuming mold problems. Preventative maintenance is the best way to catch warning signs of mold early so you can act on it before it becomes a serious situation.