WJTV News Channel 12 - Renter's Rights: How to protect yourself in landlord disputes

Renter's Rights: How to protect yourself in landlord disputes

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WILLIAMSTON, N.C. -

Renting a home is a choice a lot of people make, and as renters you have rights. But landlords can drag their feet when it comes to repairing all kinds of problems.

That’s what one Williamston woman says happened to her when she discovered mold growing in her rental house. She had an expert test it, who told her it was dangerous and could be making her family sick. But her landlord refused to fix it and wouldn't give them their rent money back.

So 9 On Your Side is investigating what renters can do to protect themselves.

Pitt County Environmental Program Specialist Emily Robertson says there's no federal or state regulations that specifically address mold, just EPA guidelines.

"If you sign the lease, you're in essence saying that you agree that it's a decent place to live,” Robertson says. "There is no disclosure with mold."

Still, renters in our state have some protection thanks to the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreement Act. It’s a broad statute that says a landlord must maintain and repair facilities in a timely manner, comply with building codes, and keep your rental property in safe and habitable condition.

"If the landlord doesn't take care of that, the tenant has all kinds of rights: the right to damages, which would include the cost of moving and renting an apartment or house somewhere else; any resulting medical bills from a failure to address the problem," says David Kirkman, the state special deputy attorney general who works in the Consumer Protection Division.

But often to get compensation, a tenant must file a private lawsuit and prove it all in court. Robertson says that can be expensive and time consuming.

Her advice: Avoid a dispute in the first place by doing your homework and having an expert inspect it before you move in.

Another option would be to contact your local code enforcement officers. Robertson says it’s their job to ensure every house in the community meets minimum living standards, and they have the power to condemn a building if they consider it unsafe.

You can also file a complaint with the Attorney General's office.

--- Original Story ---

It’s landlord versus tenant in a case of dangerous mold.

   

A Williamston woman wants to warn future renters of a house she calls “hazardous.” So she turned to 9 On Your Side for help.

Karla Williams says her family rented a home on Holly Springs Church Road for a year-and-a-half. During that time span, she says her husband developed respiratory problems and she delivered her baby prematurely.

Her daughter, Kate, was born weighing just 1 pound, 10 ounces and spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit.

"This is the one thing we had wanted more than anything in this world, and to know that you could possibly lose your child before she's even born is hard,” Williams says.

Soon after, Williams discovered mold growing in their kitchen cabinets, closets and window sills. She called an inspector with 24 Restore who determined the mold was at dangerous levels.

"I specifically asked him, ‘If it were your family, what would you do?’ And he said, ‘I would get out,’" she recalls.

Her family packed their bags the next day and consulted their doctor, who told them their health issues were likely linked to the mold. She then asked their landlord to fix it.

"She just kind of brushed it off,” Williams says. “She said, ‘It's mildew. Don't worry about it.’"

Within a month, the landlord rented out the same house to another tenant. 9 On Your Side called him today. He told us he got sick too, and moved out after just two weeks.

So we took the report and pictures to another mold expert, Eric Ambrose at CareMaster in Greenville.

"It is a situation where you'd want to vacate the premises," Ambrose said after examining them.

He agrees the mold levels are excessive, and when inhaled or ingested, can contaminate your blood stream.

"That prolonged exposure raises the chances of somebody falling deathly ill,” he says.

We asked, “What about pregnant women?”

“Especially pregnant women," he responded.

With report in hand, I then headed to landlord Madeleine Flynn's house.

"Do you believe the mold issue in that home has caused any health issues?” 9 On Your Side asked.

“I don't think so,” Flynn said. “It was not my responsibility to make sure the house was mold free.”

We asked what she’s doing to fix the problem.

“I'm cleaning the house and I’m going to repaint it and have it rechecked by these people," Flynn said, referencing 24 Restore’s report.

But Ambrose says a self-cleaning might not be good enough.

"Bleach doesn't kill all molds,” he says. “It kills a lot of molds, but the ones that you didn't kill or effectively removed from the surface, you bleached them, so now they're still there, but you can no longer see them."

Williams says she tried to file a complaint with the Martin County Health Department. But they told her, and reiterated to 9 On Your Side today, they have no jurisdiction or authority over mold on private property. There are also no clear-cut federal or state laws that regulate it.

Tune into 9 On Your Side tomorrow night to find out your tenant rights and what you can do if this happens to you.

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