2009-07-13, 14:34

Importance of an Effective Moisture Response Program in Multifamily Residential Housing

By: Multifamily Real Estate Industry Team
When moisture problems and apparent mold growth occur in multifamily residential housing units, landlords may become vulnerable to tenant claims, even in the absence of health concerns.

A recent California appeals court decision underscores the necessity of prompt landlord responses to water intrusion complaints under all circumstances. Jackson v. Rod Read & Sons, 2009 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4569. (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/C058024.DOC)

The California court found that, as soon as the tenant alerted the landlord to the wet conditions in her unit, the landlord took immediate steps to remedy the situation. Accordingly, the court ruled that, although there were defects in the apartment unit, including a broken pipe, mold and water intrusion, the landlord’s actions in remediating the defects were reasonable. The court went on to find that the tenant had suffered inconvenience, but did not find that the inconvenience would constitute a breach of warranty of habitability under the circumstances.

In maintaining their multifamily housing properties, landlords must respond promptly to moisture-related tenant claims, whether or not there is apparent mold growth or any stated health concerns. Critical to this effort is the creation and implementation of a comprehensive moisture response program (MRP).

An MRP is a detailed program designed to manage and prevent moisture intrusion or infiltration. It should identify any moisture-related issues and resulting mold growth as soon as possible, and have in place a response plan that deals with incidents promptly and thoroughly.

The objective of any MRP is to integrate preventive maintenance procedures into a multifamily residential property’s existing management protocols in an effort to prevent moisture and water intrusion, avoid mold growth, and preserve the safety and value of the property.
Education is an important element to any successful MRP. If everyone associated with a multifamily property, property management and tenants alike, have an understanding of the need to promptly resolve moisture problems, health claims and law suits for water intrusion incidents should be prevented.

In this regard, it is important to remember that tenants have responsibilities. Tenants have a duty to inform their landlord of conditions inside their units of which the landlord would otherwise not be aware, such as leaking pipes or excess humidity. Tenants should be reminded that their own actions may be contributing to moisture problems and apparent mold growth. Landlords should inform tenants of actions they can take to avoid excess moisture and mold growth, such as using bathroom fans while showering, using kitchen exhaust fans when cooking, and running air conditioning units when the weather requires (particularly in hot, humid climates).

Even effective prevention programs cannot entirely eliminate moisture problems in multifamily housing units. Pipe breaks, roof leaks, sewage back-ups, overflowing tubs/sinks/toilets and HVAC condensation lines, as well as other unforeseen water intrusion events, still may occur. When these unfortunate moisture problems do happen, it is absolutely critical for a multifamily property to have and follow a mold response program so that the landlord can quickly identify and correct the cause of moisture and dry out and remediate any impacted areas. Creating and effectively implementing an MRP should ensure fewer claims and lawsuits and a satisfactory result in court, should it come to that.

(This entry posted by Erin Miller, Jim Mitchell, John Sweeney and Sky Woodward, all members of Womble Carlyle's Products Liability Litigation team)

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