This story is from The Pulse, a weekly health and science podcast.
Find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
The odd-sized back door to my room and the window next to it were hung in a cracked concrete exterior wall that trapped all the rainfall nature provided. The West Seattle apartment was in a mid-century brick structure that had once been a hardware store. Its reconversion accommodated several small units, roughly renovated. And the old place was riddled with mold.
When the landlord showed the two-bedroom apartment in early June 2013, it was still occupied and the outgoing tenant’s belongings were piled high to hide problem areas. During the summer months, my son and I had no idea of the mold and dampness carefully hidden under new coats of paint.
But in September, the rains came, the cold set in and our real suffering began.
My first written report of mold, submitted via email to owner-owners, Lance and Galina Betz of G&L Holdings LLC, on October 11, 2013, was followed by six months of the same complaint relayed in person and via email. mail, paying the rent in due time throughout this period.
In December, Seattle’s average low temperature was 18 degrees. A broken heating system, a violation of Seattle municipal code, exacerbated the problem inside the walls. In my room, the ice cubes melted into puddles under the radiators and extension cords.
In the spring of the following year, the city’s Department of Building and Inspection, the entity responsible for enforcing most codes in the greater Seattle area, visited the apartment at my request. . DCI notified the owners of several structural violations and ordered superficial repairs that did not address the underlying causes of condensation and mold in the unit. Regarding the unsealed exterior wall that “bleeds” to the interior walls and the resulting inability to seal the apartment as required by law, the owners told DCI that they would replace the wall after my lease expired.
In New York and California, that response from a landlord wouldn’t hold up. Under New York City law, homeowners must perform annual inspections to check for mold and other indoor allergen hazards, and remedy the underlying causes. Under California Senate Bill 655, “Visible Mold Growth” has been classified as a type of inadequate sanitation that must be reduced by homeowners and property owners.
No Tenant Rights or Remedies
Washington’s landlord-tenant law, however, shrugs off tenants and winks at landlords when it comes to mold.
Washington State law requires landlords to maintain the premises fit for human habitation during tenancy, maintain the dwelling in a reasonably weatherproof condition, and maintain structural elements in “reasonably good condition.”
Yet shortly after DCI’s visit, when Krysta Thornton, a home environmental specialist with the American Lung Association, came to the apartment to perform a home health check – an assessment intended to identify health hazards such as mold, dust mites, and ventilation issues – she immediately noted the “actively damp” interior and exterior walls, signs of water and mold damage, and the absence of heating sources in the apartment, as required by Seattle municipal code.
“A fully functional heating source is critical in mold prevention,” Thornton wrote. “[And] all materials where mold cannot be removed from surfaces…should be discarded.
In April 2014, after sending the Lung Association’s assessment to the owners and again asking them to fix the mold, they refused. They offered to terminate the lease and directed me to the mold addendum – a mandatory disclosure under Senate Bill 5049 which requires landlords to notify tenants of the presence of mold.
The Mold Addendum does not require landlords to show and tell where mold exists in a rental property. Far from there. Instead, what is needed is the dissemination between landlord and tenant of information about the health risks associated with indoor mold exposure.
A tenant’s written acknowledgment of the mold covenant proves landlord compliance, but the covenant does not grant tenants specific rights or remedies for mold. The addendum simply advises renters to use bleach and water if mold grows – which the Environmental Protection Agency says is not recommended as routine practice when cleaning. mold.
That’s it. It’s mandatory mold disclosure in the state of Washington.
Health consequences of living with indoor mold
Penicillium and Aspergillus spores, commonly known as molds, occur naturally in soil. Because they are very small and light, they are often airborne and easily distributed, so every time we open windows and doors, every time we enter from outside, we introduce fungal spores into indoor environments.
Estelle Levetin, professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Tulsa, said this type of spore migration is not a problem.
“The problem arises when the presence of humidity inside triggers the germination and growth of spores. It is then that the interior can [become] contaminated,” Levetin said.
And moisture can cause problems beyond mold. According to Levetin, studies have shown that indoor humidity can lead to mold growth, which may be associated with the development of asthma.
In his article “Adverse Health Effects of Indoor Mold”, industrial hygienist Luke Curtis concluded that “exposure to high levels of indoor mold can cause injury and dysfunction to multiple organs and systems. , including the respiratory, hematological, immunological and neurological systems, in immunocompetent humans.
Mold spores can cause pneumonia, nerve damage and death, especially in asthmatics and immune-compromised and immune-compromised people. And Levetin said there is an association between humidity, fungal growth and respiratory tract symptoms. When inhaled, mold spores land in our nasal passages, or they can travel deep into our respiratory system to our lungs.
How to Identify Mold in Your Home and Take Action
The first step in protecting yourself against the effects of mold is knowing how to identify it.
When there’s a musty smell, start investigating with your eyes, said Levetin, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Tulsa. Open cabinets, look under sinks, check bathrooms, she advised. Are there any signs of dampness? Are there rings on the ceiling or on the walls? Ask about recent structural events and plumbing issues, such as a leaky attic or flooded basement.
It’s also important to note, she said, that when a space is too airtight, moisture that accumulates from regular indoor activities such as washing clothes and dishes, taking baths and showers and even cooking can be worrying.
“There’s no perfectly sealed structure, there’s always a way for moisture to get in, and not all fungal spores will cause problems,” Levetin said. “Self-contained air purifiers are effective, especially those with HEPA filters.”
The goal is a healthy balance between tightness and consistent airflow.