PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Black mold is one of the most devastating and costly consequences of Florida's humid and stormy weather.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, most American homes have mold at some level. But more people are telling WPTV that mold inside their homes is making them sick.
Danielle Logan noticed a problem in her rented West Palm Beach apartment in July.
"I've been seeing black stuff, all in my house," this single mother of three said.
She claimed the mold was making her family sick.
"As soon as we walk in, my daughter's eyes are burning," she said. "They're coughing, sneezing."
Logan complained to the property manager. Days later, a mold remediation crew arrived and looked around her apartment.
She hoped they saw the cracked walls, which inside showed what she believed to be black mold.
"It just got worse and worse, and the walls started coming out more and more," Logan added.
She still waiting to learn the results of the tests.
But until she feels safe, she, her two daughters and her baby son will spend their nights in her car, and little time in the apartment.
"Even to walk in there, and to take a shower really quick with me and my kids, my eyes burn," Logan said. "My nose burns."
Throughout this humid and stormy summer, WPTV's investigative unit has received an increasing number of mold complaints similar to Logan's.
Across town at another West Palm Beach apartment, Nadia McKay thinks a black substance on her bathroom ceiling makes her son and daughter sick.
"Runny nose is part of the symptoms of the mold," McKay said. "Headaches, fatigue, can't sleep, insomnia. Me and my daughters have that."
Hurricane Ian has left Florida's west coast communities with cities of mold.
Homeowner Bill Doyle said Ian's torrential rainfall and storm surge made his home almost unlivable.
"I was sick. I'm still sick right now," Doyle said. "I was in denial. I didn't think I had mold like that until I started peeling things back. I'm still in shock."
"Mold definitely increases the risk and severity of allergies and asthma," Dr. Greg Charlop, a nationally known pediatric anesthesiologist in Atlanta, said. "Almost 90% of sinusitis, sinus infections are caused by mold, which is really sort of breathtaking to me."
Charlop is a published author on the importance of keeping indoor air clean.
He said more children and elderly people are getting sick while families attempt to stay cool during record heat.
"You're indoors a lot more than outdoors for most of us," Charlop said. "So, the air you're breathing in your house has a profound impact on your health."
Getting rid of mold can be expensive.
WPTV checked with a few insurance companies and found most policies cover mold removal after what is called a "covered peril," like a hurricane, a tornado or even a severe storm.
But if the insurance company determines a leaky roof or poorly sealed windows allowed water intrusion to lead to mold, the homeowner usually has to pay.
According to Palm Beach Legal Aid Attorney Joe Grant, renters should contact their landlords when they suspect mold.
"If you start off with an open hand instead of a closed fist, that's usually the better track," Grant, who advises tenants to keep documents and pictures, said.
And if renters can't work things out with their landlord right away, they can go to court, and convince a judge to have them pay rent to an escrow account.
The landlord can't collect until a judge rules the problem is solved.
"I don't think there's many judges in Palm Beach County who'd side on the landlord's side with sufficient evidence," Grant said.
WPTV put him in touch with Logan.
She showed us the report of her last emergency room visit where a doctor diagnosed her illness as an "allergy to mold."
"But my health is more important than anything," Logan said. "And I know some way, somehow, it will work itself out."
When WPTV was at her apartment complex, we found a mold remediation company working at other units.
But Logan said it may be too late to save her mold-covered furniture and children's clothing, which she might have to throw away.
"They can't let us live like this," Logan added. "It's not OK."
Since she cannot find another affordable place to live, the family will live in her car located outside her apartment.
More Advice For Renters Facing Mold Problems
As Grant said, the first thing a tenant should do after finding mold is notify the landlord, and work together, if possible, to find a solution.
Florida Statute 83.51 states that a landlord must ensure the property is in good repair and in compliance with all applicable building, housing, and health codes.
Unfortunately, mold is not specifically addressed in Florida Landlord-Tenant laws.
And if a landlord refuses to make fixes, or blames the tenant for the mold, tenants can go to the next step, under Florida Statute 83.56, which is to write a seven-day notice to repair defect” letter.
This is a required condition giving the landlord seven days to fix the problem, and if not, the tenant has the opportunity to terminate the lease and move out or pay rent into an escrow account until the apartment is fixed.
If you choose to give the seven-day notice, you need to do the following:
- Send by USPS Certified Mail, or hand deliver the letter.
- Understand the landlord would be under no obligation to return your security deposit. You may consider getting a lawyer for that, as some attorneys will not charge you, and get their pay from any settlement from the landlord with a ruling that the landlord would be responsible for legal fees.
The following is a template you can use for a seven-day notice:
VIA USPS CERTIFIED MAIL RETURN RECEIPT #______________________
To: [Landlord’s Name/Property Manager]
Re: NOTICE FROM TENANT TO LANDLORD – TERMINATION FOR FAILURE TO MAINTAIN PREMISES
This letter is to advise you that you are not maintaining my dwelling unit as required by Florida Statute 83.51(1) and our rental agreement. If you do not complete the following repairs, non-compliance, or violations in the next seven days, I intend to terminate the rental agreement, move out, and hold you responsible for any damages resulting from the termination:
If every reasonable effort is not made to correct the above deficiencies, I will exercise my legal right to terminate the lease agreement seven (7) days from the date this letter is delivered to you.
[Tenant name, address, and phone number]
For additional legal help, use the links below: