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Ask Habitat: Why a Co-op Board Needs to Move on a Mold Problem ASAP

New York City

Dec. 11, 2014

HABITAT ANSWERS: The thing about mold is that it grows very quickly. Therefore, once a board is notified about its presence in an apartment, deliberate speed is imperative to clean it and keep it from spreading.

The first thing your board should immediately do (if it has not done so already) is to call the insurance company and the managing agent.

The managing agent should go to the affected apartment to see where the mold is located and take photos of it. If the mold is on a shared wall, the managing agent should check the adjoining apartment to see if it's present there.

Eliminating the Mold

Once assessed, bring in a professional to determine the type of mold with which you're dealing, as well as its source (usually a leak somewhere) so it can be fixed and cleaned up.

The cleanup process also means removing all contaminated materials and thoroughly drying all affected areas. As a rule, all affected porous materials (such as paper, wallboard, and fabric) are discarded rather than cleaned.

Affected nonporous items (such as plastics and metals) and semi-porous items (like wood) should be professionally cleaned. Anti-microbial, encapsulating coatings may also be applied as a last resort if materials, such as structural beams, cannot be removed.

Stay on Top of It

Don't wait until mold strikes again before doing something. The board should conduct regular inspections: check the roof, repair suspect pipes, make sure wall air-conditioning units are pitched so water leaks out, and replace ventilation filters.

If a board addresses underlying situations that can lead to the creation of mold, they can nip the problem in the bud.

As for who pays for what, review your proprietary lease with the building's attorney. Ideally, it should spell out who is responsible for a wide variety of damages.

The co-op is responsible for the building’s exterior, so if a leaky roof or window seal leads to damages, the board would handle it. Plumbing inside the walls also falls under the purview of the co-op, while plumbing fixtures outside the walls are the shareholder’s responsibility. Similarly, shareholders are responsible for their floors but not subflooring.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the proprietary lease does not provide sufficient guidance. In this case, the building attorney should provide an interpretation of legal precedents. What does the law provide in terms of building codes and housing maintenance codes?

If there is some duty that is breached and damage results, then whoever was negligent would be responsible for all the damages, both personal injury and to property.

But remember that the prime directive is to move quickly to clean the mold, located and fix its source to stop it from proliferating. You want to do this before the tenant gets ill.


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