Q&A: Who is Responsible for Mold Removal?

Q I am a shareholder of a co-op apartment building. I have a mold problem, which stems from water damage coming through the outside bricks. I had a mold assessment company take air samples and material samples. It was determined that there is extensive mold growth and damage. I assume the management company is responsible for any and all cleaning and repairs to my unit?

—City Shareholder

A “Any infiltration of water into your apartment is not a good thing,” says Manhattan-based attorney C. Jaye Berger, who specializes in real estate law and construction-related litigation. “Water can be very destructive and spreads throughout the walls and ceilings of apartments in ways and in directions that you cannot even imagine. Water may seem to come in at one area and you can find water damage from it in a completely different area of your apartment. It can cause physical damage and can also result in mold, which can possibly cause health issues. It’s good that you had some testing done, but I would also recommend that you seek legal counsel. As an attorney who handles co-op and construction legal issues, I always ‘orchestrate’ these things along with my client. In other words, you have air samples showing mold, now what do you do with them ?

“A key element in dealing with mold issues is giving the property owner “notice” of the problem and the presence of the mold. Your letter does not make it clear whether the building super already knows about the water leak and the mold. I would find it hard to believe that he does not know about it. Nevertheless, it is important that you give the co-op and its managing agent written notice of the problem. Having that letter come from an attorney is the preferred way.

“The general rule is that actual knowledge of mold is needed and not just notice of water damage that may lead to mold. Also, understand that merely having tests that show the presence of mold does not necessarily mean that you and your family are in danger. There are harmful and non-harmful molds. So as legal counsel I would also question the testing company about what the findings really mean.

“Whether there is mold or not, there is definitely water damage, and the building is certainly required to find out the cause of it and to correct it. It could be that the building recently had some pointing done which caused it. It may also be because the building needs to have some pointing done which was postponed. You need to find out the status from the managing agent. In other words, the building may “want” to fix the problem, but fixing it is part of a much larger issue involving repointing of the entire building. It may also be need to be a remediation company called to address the mold issue while the water problem is being fixed.”

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