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There's One Thing You Need To Do When Mold Appears: Act Fast

Adam Bulger in Building Operations

Weekly Mold

“You have to find the source of the water, which usually involves a plumber,” says Jackeline Monzon, president of Crystal Real Estate Management.

Once the source of the problem has been identified, finding the right remediation specialist can be tough. Updates to New York state laws concerning mold inspection and removal went into effect this month, setting licensing requirements and minimum work standards for mold remediation. Bill Sothern, a certified industrial hygienist and founder of the mold-remediation company, Microecologies, contributed to the New York City Department of Health’s guidelines on mold. He recommends hiring a mold-remediation specialist certified by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the American Council for Accredited Certification. You can also find licensed mold contractors through the New York State Department of Labor’s website.

“Water damage can happen anywhere,” Sothern says. “It can happen in brand new buildings. It happens in glass buildings with rain-water infiltration.”
While leaky pipes are common culprits, mold problems also arise from condensation and when exterior facades are damaged by water. Mold is an equal-opportunity invader, feeding on moisture in wood, drywall, and insulation, meaning that both old and new buildings are at risk.

Attorney Marc Schneider, a partner in the firm of Schneider Mitola, says disagreements over who’s responsible for mold are common, as conditions in one unit can influence the growth of mold in an adjacent unit. In one of Schneider’s cases, water and steam from an absent tenant’s broken shower not only damaged the unit’s bathroom, but also led to mold problems for the neighbor above. Schneider says boards should respond as quickly as possible to mold complaints and worry about who’s at fault later.
“Mold has a tendency to travel,” Schneider says. “And the longer you allow a mold condition to exist, the worse your mold problem is going to be and the more expensive the cleanup is going to be.”

Some buildings send their super to classes to get licensed in mold assessment and remediation. Peter Lehr, director of management at Kaled Management Corp., prefers to hire an industrial hygienist to assess the problem, then let him supervise contractors who perform the remediation.

“I like having a partner on things like this,” Lehr says. “I want a guy who goes through the same process each and every time. That repetition means there’s more familiarity. And if something goes wrong, I’d rather let his deep pockets handle it.”
Many insurance policies contain mold exclusion clauses, which means mold problems can be expensive. Depending on how the mold started, either shareholders or boards could be burdened with its cost. If the moisture that created the mold began in a shareholder’s unit and they were negligent about the condition, they are responsible. If a leak that the board was aware of but did not act on caused the mold, the board could be liable for damages under the warranty of habitability. A property can also be found responsible if the mold originated in a common area, including attics and exteriors.

Finally, if there’s one lesson to learn when dealing with mold, it’s this: delay is dangerous. You don’t have the luxury of procrastination.

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