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There is a nasty problem growing in your homeowner association. It might be in the walls. It might be in your crawlspace. But it’s there...somewhere. That musty odor means a fungus amongus...mold.

One of the unfortunate by-products of some modern building products is their inability to “breath” properly. Many construction materials can trap moisture and create an ideal environment for mold growth. If the mold growth is small, probably no big deal, but too often the growth is extensive. Mold spores migrate into living quarters and can trigger a number of health issues, some deadly. Some basic mold facts:

  1. Molds can be found almost anywhere. They can grow on virtually any substance providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet and foods.
  2. Health effects associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory complaints.
  3. The most effective way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture to 30-60% by: venting bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing and cleaning.
  4. Clean and dry any wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
  5. Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles that are moldy should be replaced.
  6. Prevent condensation. Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces like windows, piping, exterior walls, roof or floors by adding insulation.
  7. Do not install carpeting in areas where that have recurring moisture problems. Wet carpet is a perfect medium for mold to grow in.

Since mold can cause health problems and medical expenses can be enormous, mold litigation is producing big dividends for personal injury lawyers working the HOA circuit. For example:

McCullogh v. USC Real Estate Development Corp.

A California condominium association sue the developers, contractors and property manager for construction defects it alleged were responsible for toxic mold that caused personal injuries and property damage.

Spectrum Community Association v. Bristol House Partnership.

Spectrum sued the developers and contractors alleging that construction defects caused the growth of toxic mold in walls and ceilings of the units. The homeowners claim that exposure to mold resulted in a variety of adverse health effects.

Berry v. Mission Terrace Homeowners Association.

Three families sued their homeowners association alleging that exposure to toxic mold had caused a variety of ailments. Case was settled for $545,000. In homeowner associations, mold remediation can be more complicated because of the split maintenance responsibility between owner and association. Besides identifying the extent of mold and what caused it to grow, the HOA should have a clear Areas of Responsibility policy that clarifies who is responsible to fix it.

If the mold is isolated to one unit, it may be reasonable to have the unit owner pay for repairs. However, if multiple units are involved, the HOA may need to step in for practical reasons so the property isn’t overrun by multiple contractors. And make sure you hire a contractor with proper training and equipment for the job.

Mold remediation often involves more than just killing the mold. Often the mold is a byproduct of dryrot which has caused substantial structural damage in a very short period of time. So this double whammy can cripple an HOA in a hurry if treated lightly. Treat these spores with respect or you'll end up with your own spore-ror story.

For more on this HOA maintenance and risk management,

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