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What is a landlord responsibility for environmental hazards such as asbestos and mold?

Property owners may be liable for tenant health problems caused by exposure to environmental hazards, such as asbestos and mold.

Regulations concerning asbestos are issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They set strict standards for the testing, maintenance, and disclosure of asbestos in buildings constructed before 1981.

Mold is the newest environmental hazard fueling lawsuits against rental property owners. Across the country, tenants have won multimillion-dollar cases against landlords for claims of significant health problems-such as rashes, chronic fatigue, nausea, cognitive losses, hemorrhaging, and asthma-allegedly caused by exposure to "toxic molds" in their building. In a typical case, the Delaware Supreme Court, in May 2001, upheld a $1.4 million award to two tenants who suffered asthma and other health problems allegedly caused by mold that grew when the landlord refused to fix leaks in their apartment.

There are no federal or state laws or regulations that set permissible exposure to mold, though California has directed its Department of Health Services to study the issue.

San Francisco has added mold to its list of nuisances, thereby allowing tenants to sue landlords under private and public nuisance laws if they fail to clean up serious outbreaks (San Francisco Health Code ยง 581).

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