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It's a moderate day, 55 degrees, and you're about to tour your twenty-unit apartment complex. You're relaxed and happy. The rent has been coming in on time. You vacant units have filled fast. You feel like a true capitalist. It is a great day, that is, until you visit the first unit.

You knock on the door and the seven-year-old lets you in. Her mother is on the couch watching TV. The unit looks clean. As required, you have posted notice on all the doors in advance to let the tenants know you were coming. On this trip you brought your maintenance man, Jack, with you to fix the minor problems and make note of the major ones so you can budget the future repairs.

You can smell dinner cooking. It smells like chicken soup and it smells good. As you walk out of the living room and into the bathroom you notice some mold on the walls. You quickly walk into the bedrooms and see even more mold, especially on the outside walls.

Your look puzzles Jack. He says, "we have this problem in all of the units."

The blood drains from your face. You quickly complete the inspections of all of the units and then walk out into the sunshine.

Your brain tells you that you must do something right away and that this cannot be healthy for tenants. Your maintenance man tells you that this is not an unusual problem, especially in the winter when it is colder outside and the humidity rate on the inside increases. He recommends installing a fan in the bathroom and making sure that the fans in the kitchens work.

You are shaken to the core. You decided to buy this building because it was built out of concrete. You figured WW III could come and your building would survive. You never expected mold to invade first.

Jack suggests the following. He recommends that you check the roof first to make sure it is draining. Check the downspouts to make sure they are clear. Then he suggests checking if the humidity was caused by broken water pipe. You doubt it because your water bill has been very stable. You decide to go home and do some research on the Internet.

You log on and find the State Health Officer in California, James Stratton M.D., M.P.H., says "there are hundreds of different kinds of mold and fungi that can grow indoors, and they come in different colors, including white, pink, orange, brown and black. Almost all molds are known to produce substances or chemicals that emit a characteristic odor that can cause allergies or make them worse. Molds can also irritate the eyes, nose or throat."

You find out from the EPA that molds lack chlorophyll and must survive by digesting plant and other organic materials for food, and that without molds, our environment would be overwhelmed by large volumes of dead plant matter. Molds produce spores and these spores float by us in the air. They tend to land in damp areas, and tend to destroy the things they land on.

The key to mold control is moisture control. High humidity, condensation problems, water leaks, maintenance problems, and HVAC system problems can cause mold to grow.

The various resources you check suggest how the problem of mold can be resolved.

  1. Wash down the walls with bleach (one cup of bleach for every gallon of water) and then seal the wall and paint over it. Allow the bleach to stay in contact with the walls for 15 minutes before you wash it off. Make sure the area dries off; otherwise, mold will grow on it again. You also need to clean the carpets and drapes.
  2. Make sure workers have wear protective clothing (rubber gloves and long-sleeved shirts) and respirators.
  3. If the problem is located on an outside wall, look to see if the gutters are plugged or rain or water is coming into the building. If that's the problem, the gutters and downspouts need to be cleared, and the walls still need to be washed and primed and painted.
  4. Good airflow is critical to avoid mold. Retrofit fans and blowers into the kitchen and bathroom. This is not inexpensive, but since you have decided to make other upgrades in the property, you finance them all together.
  5. Retrofit windows so they can be opened safely about two inches to let air circulate.
  6. Communicate with tenants in writing regarding the steps they need to follow to reduce apartment humidity -- and the steps you are taking to eliminate mold.
  7. Engage experts and professionals as required.
  8. Call your insurance company if the cost is going to exceed your deductible. Your policy may cover the clean up, however the insurance company may have specific vendors they will want you to use.

After a lot of work, you feel good. You've made progress, the mold is gone, the tenants are happy, turnover has been reduced to nothing, and the tenants you have are with you to stay. Everyone benefits.

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