DC Council to Consider Tougher Enforcement of Mold Laws

The head of the D.C. Council said he wants to toughen the District’s laws to make it easier for renters to get relief from problems with mold.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is expected to file legislation next week that would charge the District’s housing inspectors with citing for mold, as they would other serious conditions, such as plumbing leaks or lack of electricity.

The move comes after an I-Team investigation found what housing advocates call a gap in enforcement. Under current law, landlords who receive a complaint of mold are required to send a licensed inspector if the problem has spread more than 10 square feet, and they have 30 days to fix it.

But no agency is tasked with ensuring landlords comply, leaving many renters seeking relief through the court.

“It should be an easier process for tenants,” Mendelson told the I-Team. “In my view, the courts should be the last resort. Courts are the hammer for when the administrative process doesn't work.”

Housing advocates say the District has already done more than other major cities when it comes to requiring landlords to address mold but should also require an agency to enforce the law.

The Department of Energy and Environment licenses mold inspectors but doesn't conduct inspections. And the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees housing violations, says it only cites for problems that cause mold — not for mold itself.

“Unfortunately, what that means is if you have a landlord who's not following the law, there's not a government agency you can turn to,” said Beth Harrison, head of the housing law unit for Legal Aid of the District of Columbia. “Your only avenue is to go to the courts, and that’s very hard to do if you don’t have the money to get access to a lawyer.”

She estimates about half of people who seek Legal Aid’s help for housing issues have mold or mildew complaints.

Monique Spann is one of several local residents who have contacted the I-Team because of mold.

She moved her family out of their Northwest home last November. They lived in a hotel for weeks as she waited for repairs. In the end, she found a new apartment but said she lost money in ruined furniture and out of pocket costs, even with renter’s insurance.

Maneuvering the legal system is a steep hurdle for most people, particularly while dealing with unstable housing, she said.

“It's a situation where people are really left in limbo,” she said.

Mendelson’s measure would require housing inspectors to become certified in mold detection and require landlords to submit reports proving mold was properly eradicated. It would also give the environmental department the power to fine landlords who don’t comply.

Reported by Katie Leslie and Jodie Fleischer; produced by Katie Leslie; and shot by Chester Panzer, BJ Forte and Jeff Piper.

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