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Old 20.05.2010, 08:04
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Re: Landlord refuses to fix mold problem in apartment

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We live in a 4 bedroom apartment in Geneva. Two bedrooms have mold in the corners. I informed the owner, who is very lazy and just had someone paint over the mold. I wrote the owner a polite letter asking him to please inform us what he would do to fix the issue. I was shocked to receive a very arrogant letter informing me that he did not like the tone of my letter and that he would accept that we leave the apartment. In other words, like it or lump it. I have a family, and the rental situation in Geneva in a disaster. We do not want to move. We just want him to fix the mold problem as this could be very unhealthy for my children. What are my rights ?
The basic rights for any tenant include the ability to fully use the apartment he or she is renting. Mold in the apartment limits the objects usability (mold is proven to hurt you) so it's the landlords task to get rid of the problem. The usually course of action is:

- Write a letter (as you already did), outlining the problem. Send it via signed mail.

Your landlord reacted to the problem by sending someone to paint over the mold. Painting over the mold CAN get rid of it, if the mold was treated before and if the paint used is mold-resistant. However, the mold was there for a reason in the first place: either, the apartment was badly ventilated and / or heated. Mold develops when the optimal room climate of 21 degrees C and a relative humidity of under 50% isn't maintained. That either happens if you don't ventilate enough (open ALL (not just the one in the room that's hit by mold) windows in the apartment for 10-15 minutes 1-2 a day. It can also happen (and that's the case most of the time, unfortunately), if there's a problem with the insulation of the room. Either it's badly insulated or it's over-insulated. The latter is frequently the case in cellars and ground-level rooms - because there's the danger of humidity pushing in through the walls, the outer walls are completely sealed and cannot breathe anymore. Anyway - if the humidity is coming in from the outside, the landlord has to make sure the problem is fixed.

Here's what I'd do right now:

- get a de-humidifier and completely dry the rooms that are affected. At the same time, start cross-venting the apartment 1-2 (or more, if someone's home during the day) a day. Also get a hygrometer and make sure the humidity doesn't rise above 60% (closer to 50% would be ideal). If venting doesn't help after a couple of weeks, it's more than likely that the humidity is pushing in from the outside. That way, the mold will probably return within 2-3 weeks.

If the mold returns, sign another (signed) letter to the landlord. Also take pictures and send them. This time, while staying polite, state that you intend to seek a solution to the problem through the mediation office for renting issues. This is an community-run institution that's free of charge for you. Ask your community about the contact details. To open a case with them, simply send them a (signed) letter with the pictures etc. From now on, make sure you send all the correspondence to the landlord to the mediation board as well so they stay informed about your steps. They will contact the landlord and summon him for a mediation talk together with you. Usually at this time, the landlord will back down. If not: go to the mediation - it's free and they (at least when mold is the issue) usually decide in favor of the tenant.

Things to avoid:

- don't lose your calm. Always remain polite and don't threaten the landlord
- don't cancel your lease - you're more than likely to win this.

Don't worry too much: most of these cases are decided in favor of the tenant. Mold issues are extremely common, you're not alone (I know all this because we went through the same thing - we ended up getting the wall fixed and receiving 500 Fr. from the landlord in damages).

Peter
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