Landlords in North Carolina must keep leased properties up to code and in a fit and habitable condition. When they fail to do so, and mold growth occurs, the tenant may be physically and financially damaged. If the tenant had previously provided the landlord notice of the problem, or the landlord knew through its inspection, the tenant might be able to pursue a financial recovery. This blog discusses the avenues a tenant exposed to toxic mold.
Types of Toxic Mold
Environmental and medical professionals sometimes refer to toxic molds as “pathogenic fungi.” Of the thousands of identified molds, between 25-50 are toxic or pathogenic. Among those are:
- Penicillium notatum
- Cladosporium herbarum
- Aspergillus fumigatus
- Candida albicans
- Botrytis cinerea
- Aspergillus versicolor
- Penicillium roqueforti
- Aspergillus flavus
- Aspergillus niger
- Chaetomium globosum
- Stachybotrys chartarum
Before an injured party can state a valid claim for personal injury damages, it must be determined that the mold found in the property is pathogenic (harmful to humans). Our attorneys will consult knowledgeable medical and environmental specialists to make this determination. If your injuries have been caused by exposure to toxic mold, they will aggressively pursue fair personal injury compensation.
Symptoms of Exposure
Stachybotrys chartarum, commonly called “black mold,” is known to cause health complications to those exposed. Symptoms can include headaches, chronic fatigue, nausea, memory loss, cold-like symptoms, pneumonia, swelling, cramps and joint pain, sinusitis, bronchitis, cancer, multiple chemical sensitivity, bleeding lungs, and even death (mainly because of hemorrhages in infants).
Residential Rental Agreements Act
North Carolina landlord-tenant law requires that all landlords provide premises fit for human habitation. Sometimes, a landlord’s failure to prevent mold violates the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreements Act.
If you, or someone in your household, has experienced health difficulties due to exposure to toxic mold, it is reasonable to argue that the property was uninhabitable, and you are, therefore, entitled to a recovery of a portion of the rent paid for the premises. This is done through an action for “rental abatement.” The abatement amount is calculated as the difference between the property’s value if warranted (i.e., fit and habitable) and its actual value during your tenancy period. You are permitted to recover no more than what was paid.
Mold can also cause damage to your physical property. Many of our clients have had extensive mold growth on upholstered furniture, clothes, musical instruments, desks, etc. Black mold experts recommend not taking these products to a new residence as they can transport dangerous mold spores. If you are forced to throw them out, your landlord is responsible for compensating you for their value. They are also liable for the cost to remediate any property you keep.
Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices
North Carolina’s “Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices” statute is important for tenants who have sustained personal injury because of exposure to toxic mold. The Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices statute allows for treble damages in certain landlord-tenant disputes. Additionally, if there has been an unwarranted refusal to settle the case by the landlord, the court may also award attorneys’ fees at its discretion.
To recover treble damages under an Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices claim, a tenant must have been damaged due to a condition known by the landlord. This means the landlord must either know of the toxic mold or the defective condition causing the toxic mold. If the landlord knows of either state and they do not remediate but continue to collect rent, the jury may find that the landlord has committed an unfair act.
Depending upon your exact situation, there are several types of damages available, including:
(1) Medical expenses related to the toxic mold exposure;
(2) Pain and suffering related to exposure;
(3) Property damage caused by toxic mold or an underlying defect (such as water intrusion);
(4) Rent abatement damages (calculated as the difference between the value of the property in its state as warranted versus the value of the property as it exists with defects); and
(5) Consequential damages such as moving costs, cost of temporary lodging, etc.
The evidentiary standard required to recover rental abatement and property damage due to mold was discussed in the North Carolina Court of Appeals case McCall v. Norman. There, the Court allowed recovery of over $10,000.00 in damages without the tenants tendering a true expert in mold growth. The tenants offered their testimony regarding respiratory difficulty and property damage, photographs of the mold, and the testimony of a building inspector that discussed the water damage that caused the mold growth. The Court held that this was sufficient to establish a prima facie case, and the tenant exposed to toxic mold did not need to offer a mold specialist or doctor. This was an important victory for tenants as the cost of such experts can make litigating a case very risky.
Representation for Tenants Exposed to Toxic Mold
The personal injury attorneys of Maginnis Howard can help you negotiate a fair settlement with your landlord or employer and, if necessary, file a lawsuit on your behalf. We offer free consultations for all tenants suffering from exposure to toxic mold. Further, we handle these cases on a contingency basis. You pay no attorneys’ fees unless and until you recover damages.
You can reach our office at (919) 526-0450 or by email through our contact page. Our intake staff will ask for the details of your potential case and determine whether we can take your case. We do our best to respond to requests in a timely fashion and direct those who contact us to the appropriate resource.