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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)
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.
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.
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 services. 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.
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 718-739-6400.) 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 mold growth was caused by the landlord’s negligence, you may have a claim against your landlord. To seek reimbursement for damages to your property or expenses related to cleanup, you can sue your landlord in small claims court. 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.
You have the right by law 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.
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 Cornfeld Tenants' Association for help in organizing your building to fight against our landlord who refuses to clean up and make repairs as required by law.
Links to More Information About MoldThe 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.