November 12, 2008
OPTIONS REGARDING UNHEALTHY APARTMENTS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked: (1) whether a tenant can obtain a “second opinion” from a state agency as to extent of and risks posed by the mold and (2) if this opinion shows that the apartment is unhealthy, whether the tenant can obtain relief in the form of spray painting the apartment or relocation assistance. We understand you have a constituent who has been issued an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. She asserts that there is mold in her apartment, which her town has inspected at her request.
There is no provision for a tenant to obtain a “second opinion” from a state agency as to extent of and risks posed by mold in an apartment. The tenant can retain an independent laboratory, at his or her expense, to conduct an analysis of the extent and nature of the mold. The tenant can use this evidence in a variety of legal proceedings authorized by the law.
Spray painting does not address the problems caused by mold, according to Department of Public Health (DPH) staff. Instead, they recommend (1) reducing moisture levels in affected buildings, (2) using bleach to eliminate mold on nonporous surfaces, and (3) replacing porous surfaces such wallboard that have become moldy.
Tenants and local health departments have a variety of legal options to address buildings that pose a health threat. Municipalities must provide relocation assistance to tenants and homeowners who are
displaced by the municipality's code enforcement activities; this requirement does not apply when a tenant is displaced because of an eviction or other private action.
APARTMENTS AND MOLD
Mold can cause adverse health effects, notably allergic reactions. According to the town and state health staff we contacted, mold is invariably associated with excess moisture. The moisture can be caused by excessive indoor humidity or by structural problems such as leaking roofs. The problem can be made worse by inadequate maintenance.
According to DPH staff, spray painting moldy surfaces does not get rid of the mold and they do not recommend this option. Instead they recommend (1) reducing moisture levels by installing dehumidifiers and fixing structural problems, (2) using bleach on nonporous surfaces, and (3) replacing porous surfaces such wallboard that have become moldy.
Under CGS § 47a-7, landlords must make all repairs and do whatever is needed to put and keep their premises in fit and habitable condition, except where they are intentionally made unfit or uninhabitable by the tenant, a member of the tenant's family, or other person on the premises with the tenant's consent. Landlords also must comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety. Additional provisions apply to “tenement houses” i.e., buildings with three or more units. Under CGS § 47a-51, landlords and tenants must thoroughly clean all parts of these buildings, including their walls, ceilings, and floors. They must do so to standards set by the local health department or other enforcing agency, and keep the buildings clean at all times.
Local health departments and other local agencies are responsible for enforcing these laws. There is no provision for obtaining a second opinion from state agencies as to the extent of and risks posed by mold in apartment. The tenant can retain an independent laboratory, at his or her expense, to conduct an analysis of the extent and nature of the mold. The tenant can use this evidence in a variety of legal proceedings authorized by the law.
Under CGS § 47a-12, a tenant may terminate his or her lease if (1) there is a noncompliance with CGS § 47a-7 that materially affects health and safety, (2) the tenant gives the landlord written notice specifying the acts and omissions that constitute the breach, and (3) the breach is not remedied within 15 days after the notice is received. A somewhat different timeline applies if there in cases of repeated noncompliance.
Under CGS § 47a-14, a majority of the tenants of a tenement house may file suit on behalf of all of the tenants that (1) alleges that the building's conditions are dangerous to life, health, or safety or meet certain other conditions and (2) seeks the appointment of a receiver of rents. If the court finds that the tenants have proved the allegations of the complaint, it can direct that (1) the current and future rents due on the property be deposited with a receiver appointed by the court; (2) the receiver apply the rents, to the extent necessary, to remedy the conditions alleged in the petition; (3) when these conditions have been remedied in accordance with the judgment, any remaining surplus be turned over to the owner.
Under CGS § 47a-14h, any tenant who claims that his or her landlord has not performed the duties imposed by section 47a-7 or related laws file suit in Housing Court to obtain relief. This option is not open to tenants who are subject to a valid notice to quit, as is apparently the case with your constituent. While the court is reviewing the case, the tenant must pay the rent into court. The court can, among other things, issue (1) an order compelling the landlord to comply with his duties under local, state, or federal law; (2) an order appointing a receiver to collect rent or to correct conditions in the property that violate these laws; or (3) an award of money damages, which may include a retroactive abatement of rent paid.
In addition to the options open to the tenant, local health departments can (1) order the responsible party to correct a sanitary condition in a building that is a danger to life or health and seek injunctive relief to require the abatement of the danger if the order is not followed within the time limit set by the department, (2) apply to the superior court for the appointment of a receiver of rents under certain circumstances, and (3) order a dwelling to be vacated if the department certifies that it is unfit for human habitation because of defects that may cause sickness or endanger the occupants' health. If the department orders that the dwelling be vacated, the tenants are eligible for relocation assistance under the Uniform Relocation Assistance Act. OLR Report 2004-R-0383 provides additional information about the relocation law.