Mold In Your Apartment

Where does mold grow?

Mold can grow on any surface that is kept wet or damp, such as a drywall, wood, tiles, or rugs.

In New York City, common sources of a mold problem are:

  • leaky pipes or radiators (including leaks that occur between the walls or floors)
  • broken or poorly sealed windows
  • a damaged roof
  • a damaged or deteriorated section of brickwork or the building’s facade;
  • water coming from a neighboring apartment (leaks; regular spilling or flooding)
  • air ducts
  • poor ventilation, especially in a bathroom
  • standing water (such as in a basement)
  • flooding

When mold develops on a consistently wet surface, it will grow into a musty, mildewy-smelling orange or black yuck that will likely be recognizable as mold. However, the mold may be coming from an area that is covered or hidden, such as a vent; underneath a refrigerator, radiator, or sink; or behind a wall that is tiled.

When does mold become harmful to health?

According to information provided by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, and the NYC Department of Health, most molds that grow in small quantities are harmless for healthy people but obvious mold growths in homes or work places should be cleaned up immediately.

Some molds can be very harmful to humans, especially young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Even healthy people can develop severe illnesses and allergies when exposed to large mold growths. Illnesses related to mold growth include allergic reactions (fever, itching, rashes, eye problems, breathing difficulties, etc), asthma, and severe respiratory problems.

Tenants around the country have complained for years about very severe illnesses, including hemorrhaging lungs, caused by mycotoxins which are chemicals produced by some harmful molds. In large quantities, according to some sources, mold mycotoxins can induce allergies and chronic, severe health problems in previously healthy people.

Is it a violation for there to be mold in my apartment?

The city’s housing department will record mold growths as “C” class, or immediately hazardous violations. However, many tenants find the enforcement of laws by the city’s health and housing departments to be insufficient when dealing with a landlord who is resistant to spending the money to cure the problem. If your landlord is not responsive, you may need to take futher action – such as taking your landlord to court (read further in this brochure for more about the process of suing your landlord.)

What should be done when mold is found in my apartment?

Mold should be cleaned up, according to the NYC Department of Health, with a mild bleach and water solution by a person who is not allergic or sensitive to the mold. Young children, especially babies, older people, pregnant women and anyone with asthma or other allergic or lung condition should not be involved in or around the mold or the clean up. The cleaning cloths should be discarded, and any thing that had the mold growing on it, such as carpets, curtains, furniture, paper, wall paper, plaster or sheet rock should also be discarded. The city’s health department has clear guidelines for cleaning up mold growths which should be followed. If your landlord is doing the cleanup, make sure the workers follow the guidelines. Obviously, very large growths should be handled by a trained contractor hired by the landlord.

What if mold keeps coming back in the same areas after it is cleaned up?

Mold grows in areas that are kept wet or moist, so simply cleaning up mold is insufficient if there continues to be a water leak, water build-up (such as after a flood), moisture build-up, or standing water (as in a basement). If mold regrows in an area where it has already been cleaned, that is an indication that the source of the problem has not been addressed.

What is my landlord’s responsibility to eliminate mold in my apartment?

Your landlord is responsible for properly cleaning up the mold and for repairing any conditions that are keeping the condition in your apartment wet.

The source of the water or moisture build-up should  be stopped prior to cleanup (unless the repair will take long, such as fixing brickwork. In such cases, temporary steps may be taken first, with permanent solutions soon to follow.) If mold is cleaned but the water source isn’t stopped, the mold will soon re-emerge. Even replacing a section of wall, ceiling, or floor will be inadequate, as the new piece will soon become wet.

Certain fixes may be expensive, such as replacing pipes between the walls or in adjacent apartments, fixing the roof, or repairing the outside walls of your building. Your landlord is responsible for making whatever repair is necessary to cure the problem, no matter what the repair costs. If your landlord resists, you may need to involve the courts.

What if my landlord fails to clean up the mold?

Follow the steps you would take with any serious repair problem:

  • To report a mold problem in your apartment or common building areas, call the NYC Dept of Health at 311 (or directly to the DOH’s Office of Environmental Investigations at 212-442-3372.) You can also report mold and any chronic leaks from pipes, improperly working drains, or roof leaks, to the NYC Dept. Of Housing, Preservation and Development, also by calling 311.
  • Write a letter to your landlord describing the problem and the steps you have taken to get the problem fixed. (Example: you spoke to the super or manager, showed him or her the mold, etc.) Be sure to date the letter, keep a copy and send it to the landlord by certified mail, return-receipt requested. You may want to share information about mold with the landlord, to better ensure that the clean up is properly done.

If your landlord fails to act promptly, you can sue the landlord in Housing Court by starting an HP Action for repairs and servcies. You can start this on your own, or as a group of tenants from the same building. You do not need a lawyer, and there are people in the Housing Court who can help you fill out the paperwork. If you have a low income, you can ask the court to waive the fees associated with filing the case. 

For more detailed instructions about all of the procedures, read our information sheet on Getting Repairs.

Can I charge my landlord, or get a reduction in rent, for having mold in my apartment?

Rent stabilized and rent controlled tenants can request a rent reduction based on reduced services (Form RA-81) by filing a complaint with the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal. (Download Form RA-81 or ask for it to be mailed to you by calling DHCR at (833) 499-0343.) DHCR tends to act slowly and has limited enforcement powers, so tenants who request a rent reduction from DHCR are strongly encouraged to also take other steps, such as suing the landlord in Housing Court in an HP Action.

If the landlord’s negligence caused the mold growth, you may have a claim against your landlord. You can sue your landlord in small claims court to seek reimbursement for damages to your property or expenses related to cleanup. Keep receipts of all expenses related to inspections, medical bills related to the issue, and cleanup. You might be able to avoid court by negotiating with your landlord.

By law, you have the right to withhold your rent and, when your landlord sues to evict you and collect unpaid rent, to ask for an abatement (a reduction in the amount owed). However, there are numerous potentially serious consequences for withholding rent. Always seek the counsel of an experienced tenant lawyer or tenant advocate before deciding to withhold rent.

How can I get help in fighting for decent services and conditions in my apartment?

Contact other tenants in the building if you think that mold or other issues are building-wide, and join with interested neighbors to pressure your landlord as a group. Read our information sheet on Forming a Tenants’ Association.

With the possibility of lawsuits and liabilities, you may want to inform the landlord’s insurance company of the issue. You can also reach out to local elected officials, especially if you are having difficulty getting city agencies to come out for inspections or to follow up with enforcement. Contact Met Council on Housing or a local housing group for help in organizing your building to fight against a landlord who refuses to clean up and make repairs as required by law.

Links to More Information About Mold

The information and advice from this fact sheet was collected from the following agencies – contact them for more information or assistance:

  • The New York City Department of Health can provide information about the health effects of mold exposure and information about the safe removal of mold.
  • New York City Department of Health, Office of Environmental Investigations at (212) 442‑3372 or the Environmental and Occupational Disease Epidemiology Unit at (212) 788‑4290.
  • There is information about mold, how to remove it, and how to deal with some of the health effects the NYC Dept of Health website: Facts About Mold Guidelines on Assessment and Mold in the Home.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health has information on its website about mold and clean up procedures as well as links to information about mold and asthma and other environmental issues.
  • The National Institutes of Health’s Medline provides web access to articles on various types of health issues related to mold.
  • Use libraries and the internet to search for magazine and newspaper articles on mold, its health effects and what tenants are doing around the country to combat the problem.