This article was written by the team of housing experts at JustFix
Mold is a serious health hazard and can present severe problems if not treated. Learn about your rights and your landlord’s legal responsibilities in dealing with mold.
Use our online tool to write a Letter of Complaint to your landlord
Mold poses a danger to the health of renters, particularly older adults, children, and people with underlying health problems, like asthma. While landlords often deal with mold by simply painting over the problem areas, this strategy rarely, if ever, solves the underlying problem. In fact, New York City law now requires landlords to do more than simply spot treat mold in both public and private housing. Read on to learn more.
If you rent in New York City, your landlord must take specific steps to eliminate all visible mold as well as the poor housing conditions that led to the mold. Leaks, moisture entering your apartment, and lack of ventilation can lead to recurring mold and related conditions like infestations of roaches and other pests. Mold grows rapidly so report the condition immediately and provide your landlord ready access to your apartment for repairs.
Once you report the problem, be ready to schedule time for the landlord and/or contractors to inspect and repair the issue. Under New York City regulation, you must provide the landlord access to inspect the condition upon “reasonable notice” (usually about 24 hours), and the landlord should provide you one week’s written notice prior to entering your apartment to perform work. If the condition constitutes an emergency (e.g. a cascading leak causing the mold), you must provide access to the landlord right away. If you live in NYCHA, call the Customer Care Center at (718) 707-7771 or make a complaint online to request repairs. You can also contact 311 to make a record of the complaint.
If your landlord fails to make repairs or does a shoddy job, you should consider calling 311*. For private housing tenants, calling 311 to report a “housing maintenance” issue will result in an inspection from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”). For NYCHA residents, a call to 311 will create an additional record of your complaint but HPD will not inspect your apartment automatically. You will need to also call the Customer Care Center at (718) 707-7771 or make a complaint online to request repairs.
For private housing residents, a housing inspector will assess the condition and place housing code violations based on the severity of the condition. For mold, violations fall into three categories: Class A, Class B, and Class C.
Class A: Mold of less than 10 square feet constitutes a Class “A” violation, meaning the owner has 90 days to cure the violation.
Class B: Mold of more than 10 square feet but less than 30 square feet in a given room constitutes a Class “B” violation, considered “hazardous” and requiring the landlord to cure the violation within 60 days.
Class C: Considered “immediately hazardous,” mold spanning 30 or more square feet constitutes a Class “C” violation and must be cured within 24 hours.
HPD will also require the landlord to “trace” the cause of the mold, phrasing violations as “trace and repair the source and abate the nuisance consisting of mold.”
If no inspector comes within a week, try calling HPD again until an inspector visits your apartment and assesses the conditions. You can search JustFix’s Who Owns What tool and the HPD website to see whether HPD placed mold violations following an inspection.
Note, HPD will not inspect a NYCHA apartment unless a tenant sues NYCHA in an HP Action in Housing Court for repairs. For more information about filing an HP Action, read on!
*KNOW THE RISK: If you are a “market tenant” (i.e. not NYCHA and not rent stabilized/controlled), you may have fewer protections against eviction or large rent increases.
Calling 311, sending a Letter of Complaint, or starting an HP Action may upset your landlord. An upset landlord could refuse to renew your lease or may increase your rent. This is illegal retaliation.
Here are some ways to escalate your mold concerns:
Start a 311 campaign with your neighbors*: A 311 campaign — calling the City repeatedly with your neighbors over the course of a few weeks — will result in several City inspections. City inspectors, once they gain access to your apartment or building, will place housing code violations that could land your landlord on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord Watch List. Calling 311 and reporting violations to HPD creates a nearly irrefutable record of mold-related conditions in your building. Particularly for issues in the common areas, calling 311 with your neighbors can draw HPD’s attention to imminent danger from leaks, mold, or the rodents these conditions attract. In extreme cases, HPD may call your landlord directly or even make repairs and bill the landlord for their trouble through the Emergency Repairs Program. That kind of attention from the City may push even the worst slumlord to hire a contractor and repair the building. In addition to reporting violations to HPD, consider filing a complaint with the Department of Health.
Send a Letter of Complaint*: For non-emergency mold safety concerns, use JustFix’s Letter of Complaint tool to inform your landlord in an official manner. JustFix will generate a letter specific to your concerns and send it to your landlord, via certified mail, at no cost to you.
File a Rent Reduction: Rent stabilized and rent controlled tenants may have the right to a rent freeze or even a reduction in their rent due to mold and related conditions in their apartments and building common areas. To file a complaint online for your own apartment, fill out DHCR’s online complaint form and follow the instructions carefully. For common area complaints, file a building-wide complaint with your rent stabilized and rent controlled neighbors.
Start an HP Action*: If calling 311 or sending a letter of complaint doesn’t move your landlord to action, consider starting a lawsuit in Housing Court. Tenants have the right to sue their landlords for repairs and/or harassment in an HP Action. Groups of tenants may also file an HP Action together. To learn more about HP Actions, check out Housing Court Answers. For NYCHA tenants, starting an HP is the only way to obtain an HPD inspection. For this reason, consider filing a lawsuit right away. Although the judge will rely on the HPD inspection during court appearances, you may also wish to take photos of the mold.
With the passage of Local Law 55 in 2018, tenants in New York City have special protections from indoor allergens like mold. Local Law 55 obligates all landlords to use licensed professionals to remediate any mold patches of 10 square feet or more. Find out if your landlord’s contractor has the right license by searching the Department of State Department of Labor Database for “licensed mold remediator.”
In addition to remediating mold patches of any size, landlords must take special precautions to protect you and your neighbors by:
Moving furniture away from work areas and/or covering furniture with plastic before starting remediation;
Limiting the spread of dust by sealing off door ways, ventilation ducts, and other ways dust may spread;
Gently misting areas with water and mild detergent before removing mold. Then, cleaning moldy areas with water, soap, or mild detergent and letting the area dry completely;
Using wet mops or HEPA vacuums to clean visible dust; and
Disposing of all mold contaminated cleaning supplies in securely sealed, heavy duty plastic bags.
The moisture that leads to mold in apartments often also causes infestations of roaches, mice, and other pests. Local Law 55 also requires landlords to remediate infestations using Integrated Pest Management (“IPM”). Landlords must make efforts to address the cause of the infestation such as cracks in walls, leaks, and moisture entering the apartment. Owners wishing to apply pesticides must hire a “pest professional” licensed by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The 2018 law obligates landlords who operate any building of three (3) or more units to inspect for mold and other allergens (like roaches and investigations) every year, and provide all tenants with this notice of rights.
Remember, landlords have the obligation to remediate mold, not tenants. If you can afford to take care of the mold yourself and wish to do so, for your own safety, hire a licensed contractor. You can later sue the landlord in small claims court or take the risk of withholding your rent to compensate yourself for the cost.
If you do pay for mold remediation, save all receipts and proceed with caution because, unfortunately, there’s no explicit right to withhold rent and make your own repairs in New York State. If your landlord sues you in Housing Court for the back rent, the judge will determine whether you fairly withheld the cost of the mold clean up. In case of a future legal dispute, make sure HPD inspects by calling 311, inform the landlord of the condition in writing, take photos of the mold, and keep good records of all your expenses.
If you choose to clean up mold yourself, the federal Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) also offers resources on how to safely clean up mold. But, remember, as a renter, remediating mold is not your job. Tenants in public and private housing can call 311 and ask to speak with the NYC Department of Health (DOH) for additional resources and support. Low-income renters can reach out to local legal services providers by contacting the Legal Aid Society or Legal Services NYC. For those who may not qualify for free services, contact the New York City Bar for a legal referral.
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