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Does renters insurance cover mold?
Mold. Gahh. In most cases, whether or not your renters insurance covers mold, is more complicated than just a yes or no answer. It boils down to the question, what caused the mold damage?
Did a sudden, unexpected event cause the mold issue? Was the sudden, unexpected event a named peril on your renters insurance policy? Was the mold issue caused because you were negligent? Read on for a quick 101 on renters insurance and mold coverage.
When is mold damage covered by renters insurance?
Mold damage is covered by renters insurance when it is the result of a named peril specifically listed in your renters insurance policy. This list is not complete, however, here are some common named perils in which you will be covered if mold damage results:
- Unexpected cracking or bursting of a hot water heating system, air conditioning system, automatic fire sprinkler system.
- Any named-peril that you can trace mold damage to. For example, an explosion occurs that shatters your windows resulting in rain entering your apartment and ruining your couch. You could file a claim for that.
- Fire: (water damage from sprinklers or the fire department).
- Busted pipes due to freezing of a water heating system, air conditioning system, automatic fire sprinkler system.
- Windstorm or hail: If a windstorm causes a window to break, for instance, and water is blown into your apartment; as a result, it should be covered by your renters insurance policy.
When is mold removal not covered by renters insurance?
There are a lot of exceptions and exclusions in renters insurance policies regarding water damage which can turn into mold damage. Here is a list of the most common times when mold removal is not covered.
- Flooding from surface or groundwater (think rivers and streams).
- Flooding from tsunamis, tides, tidal water, storm surge.
- Water backing up in sewers or drains.
- Water overflowing from sump pumps, sump pump wells, or anything else that is meant to drain groundwater.
- Groundwater that seeps up through cracks in the foundations of your residence.
- Failures of levees, dams, seawalls, or any other water containment system.
- Neglect by allowing a known leak to go on for more than 14 days without reporting it to your landlord.
- Neglect by allowing mold to grow and spread when it could have been preventable.
How much are you covered for mold damage claims?
Most renters insurance policies have strict limits on what they will cover and up to how much. Oftentimes not more than a couple of thousand dollars. Review your renters insurance policy for details, your deductible and contact your agent at the first site of damage. The sooner you catch it, the less damage there is.
Mold caused by a leaky roof, pipe, wall or which predated your move into the rental is the responsibility of the landlord. However, their policy and/or lease, likely excludes replacement coverage for any of your personal damaged items. More on that below.
How to determine if your landlord is at fault for mold damage
This is a pretty sticky question, and it could vary from city to city and state to state. So let’s assume first off that you have not been negligent in any way — you called your landlord the second you noticed a leaking pipe, you followed any special mold addendums listed in your lease, you scrub your shower down with bleach once a week. Your halo is made of gold, not mold; we got you!
It is a good idea to review any state and city statutes that exist. Some states, such as California, do have laws regarding what is the permissible amount of mold in rentals. There are also some cities, New York and San Francisco, that have mold guidelines.
Mold and your landlord’s duty to provide you with a habitable rental
Whether or not your city or state specifically addresses mold and your landlord’s level of responsibility, landlords are responsible for maintaining the building premises in a safe and livable condition. That means if a mold problem is in the building or in your apartment that is beyond your abilities to control or remove, they are responsible for ordering a mold inspection and hiring mold removal professionals to get rid of it. Here are a few ways to tell if mold has gotten itself into the ‘bones’ of the apartment complex you live in.
- Unidentified and overpowering mold smell: Mold that has rooted itself in walls, basements, attics, ventilation systems are well beyond your responsibility or ability to remove.
- Unexplained allergies: Watery eyes, congestions, asthma, rashes, etc. are all symptoms of a possible mold issue.
- Flooding: If you live in a building that experienced flooding and has developed a mold issue, your landlord is responsible for getting a mold inspection and mold removal.
- Roof leaks: If you suspect a leaky roof make sure you tell your landlord. Roof leaks can wreak havoc on drywall, ceilings, walls, supports, and it is your landlord’s job to fix and repair any mold damage.
- Leaking pipes: You should always tell your landlord right away if you have a leaky pipe. Harder to detect may be problem pipes in walls. If you suspect a hidden problem tell your landlord and insist on a mold inspection if a leak is found.
- Faulty siding: If the faulty siding is allowing water to seep into your exterior walls, tell your landlord about it and request a mold inspection as well.
Read our article on Landlord repair responsibilities to learn more about talking to your landlord about mold issues.
Renters insurance lingo 101 — named perils, exceptions, neglect
Understanding renters insurance lingo is half the battle to understanding how to read your renters insurance policy and when it covers mold issues.
• Is mold damage a named peril?
Renters insurance defines ‘named peril’ as a sudden or unexpected event that is covered by your policy. Take a quick read through and you’ll find a section in your renters insurance policy called ‘named perils’ or ‘perils insured against’. You’ll see a list of each peril you are protected against. Common types of named perils in renters insurance are fire, lightning, explosions, etc.
Mold damage is not a named peril but a result of water damage that a named peril could have caused. For example, if there is a fire at your apartment and the fire department soaked your living room with water to put it out. Mold damage would be covered in this situation.
• Is mold damage considered an exception in renters insurance?
No, mold damage is not an exception. But what caused the mold damage is. For example, ‘accidental damage or overflow of water or steam is a named peril. An exception is if the cause of this peril was a constant leakage of water for longer than 14 days. That is not a sudden or unexpected event.
• When is mold damage considered negligence?
Negligence means that you failed to act in a way that a ‘responsible’ person should act in a given set of circumstances, which means that the damage was preventable and happened because you failed to act. ‘Neglect’ is an exclusion in renters insurance policies.
That means that if you neglected to take care of a mold issue under your sink, your renters insurance would not pay for it if it had gotten into the cupboards or flooring. If you have known about a leaky pipe and allowed it to go on without notifying your landlord, you will also be considered negligent.
• What is the difference between an exception and an exclusion?
Again, an exception is an exception to the rule. An example is if your policy includes an ‘accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam’ EXCEPT when caused by surface or groundwater aka flooding from a river.
An exclusion is something that is specifically not covered in your renters insurance policy. You will see language like this, “We do not insure for loss caused directly or indirectly by any of the following. Such loss is excluded regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss.”
Water damage and neglect can be found under the exclusion section of your renters insurance policy. It will include things such as sewer backups, tsunamis, storm surge, and surface water flooding. Any water damage that results in mold damage from the items defined in the exclusion section’ water damage’ will not be covered.
What is mold anyway?
Okay, now you’re saying, “duh! It’s that icky, green, gray fuzzy stuff that’s stinking up my laundry room!” And, you’re right. Another phrase for it is an environmental hazard that can cause significant health problems such as:
- Chronic fatigue
- Cognitive loss
Tenants have won multi-million dollar cases against their landlords for allowing them to be exposed to mold that led to some of these conditions. It’s no joke.
How do I identify mold?
You already have the green and gray part down, but it can also come in black and white — think James Bond black-tie (Sean Connery, not Roger Moore) and even orange (orange is the new black). On the serious side – here are some basic ways to identify mold:
- On surfaces appears as — a dark furry growth, black stain, or black, orange, green, or brown specks.
- Stale or musty odor.
- Health symptoms: Allergic reactions can include constantly runny nose, watery eyes, dizziness, headaches, sneezing, memory loss.
- Hire professionals to do a mold inspection.
Where does mold like to grow?
Mold loves dark, damp places (like any self-respecting villain). Here are some places to watch:
- Bathrooms and laundry rooms
- Any high condensation area, such as around window sills or under the sink.
- Places where there has been previous water build-up, such as an overflowed toilet.
- Anywhere if you live in a high humidity climate.
How can I prevent mold growth?
Mold loves moisture. So the most important thing you can do is keep moisture levels to a minimum.
- Monitor moisture levels with a hygrometer. Hygrometers monitor humidity levels. Humidity levels under 60 are ideal.
- Open windows, doors, and turn on fans when you shower.
- Dry the shower after every use. Leaving water on surfaces in the shower promotes mold issues.
- Don’t allow clothes to sit in the washing machine. Transfer them to the dryer as soon as possible to avoid mold issues.
- Don’t line dry clothes inside. Always do it outside or use the dryer.
- If you have a dryer in your apartment, make sure the vent is clear and working to avoid excessive moisture build-up during use.
- Clean spills and floods right away. Did you know that it only takes 24-48 hours for mold issues to start?
- Increase ventilation in your home by opening windows when possible.
- Use a dehumidifier.
- Tell your landlord about leaky pipes and drains immediately.
- If there is excessive condensation on windows or sills, make a habit of wiping them up once a week.
- Run the AC. Most mold won’t grow in temperatures above 70 degrees.
How to get rid of mold damage
There are a lot of products that will do the trick, but here is your basic mold issue tool kit.
- Chlorine bleach. Regular household bleach is your most effective tool against mold. Bleach will (insert monster-truck madness voice here) destroy mold and works on tough mold stains. You should dilute before using it because bleach can also eat away at less durable surfaces.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Less harsh than bleach, it will still kill it and lighten stains.
- Distilled white vinegar: Vinegar is non-toxic. It is acidic and works by breaking down mold and killing it. It may not be able to get rid of mold stains, however.
- Baking soda: Another non-toxic option, baking soda, will help inhibit mold growth and survival.
Your mold removal shopping list
Here are the mold removal basics you will need. Check out 18 Essential cleaning supplies for every renter for more cleaning essentials.
- Rubber gloves: Protect your skin from harsh chemicals like bleach as well as from touching mold.
- Cleaner: Chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, distilled white vinegar, or baking soda.
- A plastic bucket that you can dilute the product in according to instructions on the label.
- Cleaning rags and scrub brushes.
- Masks: Breathing mold spores in is no Bueno friends!!
Check out the CDC’s website for more information about mold and how to clean it up safely.
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