When you live in an apartment, there are certain challenges you might encounter. Noisy neighbors, for example, can make home life unpleasant, while a broken elevator can make the act of accessing your living space an exercise in breathlessness and sweat. But if there's one problem you really don't want to grapple with in your apartment, it's mold growth. Here, we'll talk about what a mold problem looks like and explain what steps to take if mold shows up in your unit.
What does mold look like?
Chances are, you've seen a piece of bread turn moldy at least once in your lifetime. In that situation, mold growth usually manifests as bright green spots that are easy to see.
But a mold infestation inside an apartment doesn't always look like that. In fact, you may be more likely to spot black mold rather than green mold. That mold usually appears as clusters of black dots in places like walls and ceilings or underneath sinks. Mold growth can also take the form of discolored surfaces -- like a section of your wall or ceiling that looks like water damage and doesn't quite match the rest of it.
Keep in mind, however, that toxic mold isn't always visible. You should suspect mold growth, however, if your apartment suddenly starts smelling funky -- specifically, like stale air. Furthermore, if you suddenly start experiencing health problems, mold issues may be to blame.
What causes mold?
Mold growth is generally spurred by excess moisture in your home. If you have a water leak in your apartment that goes untreated, you could wind up with a mold outbreak on your hands. That water leak, however, may not be so obvious. It's possible, for example, for a pipe beneath a sink to slowly but surely leak moisture into a cabinet you rarely access, thereby contributing to mold growth without you being the wiser.
A leaky roof in your building can also cause a mold outbreak. Furthermore, water can seep in through cracks in the concrete mortar that surrounds your building's brick exterior -- a problem often made worse during rainy periods.
Poor ventilation in your apartment can also lead to excess moisture. For example, showering without running a fan for ventilation or cracking a window can lead to mold growth. An outdated, poorly maintained building HVAC system can also result in mold growth when condensation from that system leads to a moisture problem. Keep in mind that mold spores can travel through your building's ventilation system and make you sick -- even if the original mold problem originates in a different part of the building.
Why is mold dangerous?
Left untreated, mold can really make you sick. Even if you don't see mold in your apartment, spores can infiltrate your indoor air, causing breathing problems that mimic allergic reactions or bad colds -- think itchy, burning eyes, a stuffy nose, and wheezing. If you have a pre-existing condition like asthma or lung disease, mold exposure could be particularly dangerous, which is why it's so important to recognize the signs of mold growth and remedy the problem as quickly as possible.
What to do as a renter if you find mold in your apartment
If you uncover a small mold problem in your apartment, you may be able to tackle it yourself. For example, if you see a small cluster of black spots in a specific part of your home -- a cabinet that a sink flows into, or a certain part of your wall -- then you may be able to scrub it off with soap and water or a bleach solution (wear gloves and even a face mask if you go the latter route).
But if the issue is more widespread, you'll need to loop in your landlord -- especially if the source of your mold problem isn't obvious, or if you're not seeing signs of mold, but rather, are experiencing the health issues that come with an infestation.
It's a good idea to inform your landlord of your mold issue in writing. That way, if your landlord drags his or her feet, you'll have evidence in support of further action you might need to take if the problem goes unaddressed for too long, like withholding rent or even breaking your lease.
At that point, your landlord should bring in a company to do some mold testing. If a mold problem is confirmed, and its source isn't something attributable to your actions (meaning, for example, you didn't repeatedly spill water inside a wooden cabinet and fail to wipe it up), then your landlord should pay for whatever mold remediation is needed. Your landlord should also take steps to prevent mold from coming back, whether it's addressing a leak in your building's roof, repointing its bricks, or addressing issues with the building's HVAC system that result in excess moisture.
What to do as a homeowner if you find mold in your apartment
If you own your apartment, it may be on you to pay to have your unit tested for mold, and if the problem stems from your unit (say, a leaky fixture that caused water to sit for too long), you may have to pay for mold remediation yourself. On the other hand, if that mold growth didn't originate within your unit, but rather, traveled in the form of airborne spores, then there may be a problem that needs to be addressed at the building level. At that point, your homeowners association or co-op board will need to address the issue at hand.
How to prevent mold from coming back
Whether you own your apartment or rent one, there are a few steps you can take to prevent mold problems in your unit. First, make a point of repairing leaky fixtures, including pipes that run underneath sinks. If you're a renter, that's a job your landlord is responsible for.
Also, be careful about letting excess moisture build up in your living space. Invest in a dehumidifier for your bathroom if it doesn't tend to have great ventilation, or be sure to crack a window when you're showering. Be careful in your kitchen, too -- that's another area that could experience high humidity when you cook, so if your apartment’s ventilation isn't great, open a window when you're using your oven or stove.
Mold is a problem you really don't want to ignore. If you think you have mold in your apartment, act quickly -- before your health takes a dangerous turn for the worse.