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You Ask: What rights do I have if my landlord won't fix a mold problem?

You Ask: What rights do I have if my landlord won't fix a mold problem?

CREATED Nov 4, 2010

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Recently we've received handfuls of emails from people who have found mold in their homes and say they can't get rid of it and their apartment complex isn't fixing the problem. So on Las Vegas woman took the problem into her own hands. She asked Action News to investigate who is looking out for you and your health.

"I kept on telling my husband I think the house in making us sick," said April Harris O'Brien.

You may find a little mold in your bathroom, clean it up and not think twice. That's what April thought until she says she started finding along the baseboards of her bedroom and under her carpet.

"We had two water heaters bust the upstairs unit above us flooded and went into our home, said April.

 April says it was after the March flood this year when she first noticed the musty smell in her Sterling Court apartment on Mountain Vista near Russell. While cleaning up, April spotted something else.

"Throughout the entire apartment once we started uncovering and saw the mold actually pull off one of the baseboards in the master bedroom and it was like black, black, black," explained April.

She documented everything on home video on April 19th as she walked around her apartment

The place she called home for years was a mess as the complex tried to dry the carpet and she tried to put rooms back together.

"The smell of the house, I don't even like being in here," explained April as she video taped the conditions around her house.

It was that smell that had April thinking that there might be mold. So she says she asked the complex for a mold test but didn't get a response. So she put the request in writing.

She tells us the complex did a visual inspection and "were unable to detect any water leaks, moisture and/or mold in the unit".

A few days later she hired a licensed mold inspector. The results from his tests were positive, showing mold in her apartment.

The Centers for Disease Control says no matter what type of mold is present in a home, you should arrange to get it removed because it can cause upper respiratory issues. April says her daughter had the symptoms.

"We went in the last time to the doctor and they actually put her on a nebeulizer, a breathing treatment, she has not had to have one since we left," said April.

The O'Brien's signed a new lease to move into another apartment in a different building. Before they moved April requested a mold test for that apartment, and she says Sterling Court refused.

So April took a bold step as a renter.

"We said we're going to withhold rent until you have that test conducted," said April.

That's when she got served with an eviction notice. The O'Brien's got a lawyer, went to court in May and won. Turns out, withholding rent until a landlord tries to fix a problem is perfectly within your rights as a renter.

But it depends on what the problem is.

"The landlord is required to keep the premises in a habitable condition which means it's gotta comply with all building codes, safety and health codes," said Jim Berchtold, Supervising Attorney at the Legal Aid Center.

We called Sterling Court apartments. They wouldn't comment on April's case. The owners of the complex did send April a letter in July saying that if she or her husband comes on property without their consent, they will call the police and charge them with trespassing.

April is starting over in a new apartment, in a new complex across town without her belongings. Their stuff is still at Sterling Court because the family is worried it's also moldy.

"We want the money back for the stuff that is contaminated," said April.

She's hoping this story will help others see that they too have rights, even as renters.

"Even if they wind up not paying us our money back for the stuff they contaminated at least other people are going to be educated and they can make their own decisions,' said April.

If you have a problem with your home that is considered a habitable condition you have to notify your landlord in writing about the problem and give them 14 days to respond. During that 14 days you cannot deny the complex access to your unit to fix the problem. The tenant cannot have caused the problem themselves. If the complex does not make a reasonable effort to fix the problem tenants can break the lease or withhold rent.

If you plan to withhold rent, that rent must be kept at the courthouse as proof of your defense. The money gets deposited with the court clerk and the clerk keeps an account for that rent. It's just one of the many rights that tenants have but few may know about. Click here to learn more.