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Tenant Advice: Put Mold Complaints in Writing

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Very few people who rent apartments, condos or other housing would try to solve a serious mold problem on their own.

But how quickly should tenants in rental housing expect action from a landlord? And what should renters do to ensure they get prompt attention for a potentially serious housing problem?

Cedar Rapids city housing officials said the short answer is two weeks — and get it in writing.

Doreen Cook lives in a rented condo at 6601 Creekside Dr. N.E. in Cedar Rapids. She first noticed the mold just as soon as she moved in July 1st. Her drywall is soaking wet in spots. The water appears to be seeping into her condo from a separate furnace room she shares with another tenant. Cook figures that moisture is fueling the mold growth. Still, for awhile, she wasn't getting much of a response from the owner's representative, Preferred Property Management.

"I made multiple phone calls—two to three times a week. I'd get a voice response...nobody coming out," Cook said.

Since a first news contact, Cook said there was a chance. A maintenance worker did come by the condo Thursday morning to look at the problem. He told her it could probably get cleaned up and fixed without extensive repairs.

But Cook fears otherwise and worried about potential health risks from exposure to mold. She hand delivered a written complaint to the property manager a few days ago.

And Al Pansegrau, chief housing inspector for Cedar Rapids, said that was exactly the right thing to do in a case like this involving rental housing.

Pansegrau said once such a written complaint is delivered, city code gives owners two weeks to either fix the problem or make a significant start. If not, the city's rental housing office can get involved.

Pansegrau said "we'll look at the violation letter they wrote up—make sure everything is a code item we can address. Then we'll make a time to go out and look at it. If it is a valid complaint, we charge the owners $100 for that."

Pansegrau said the city's rental housing office won't actually test for a particular type of mold. That kind of testing costs money and there are literally hundreds of types of mold. Instead, if the city finds a valid mold complaint in rental housing, then inspectors will concentrate is getting the source of the moisture stopped and the mold removed.

The owner's representative could not be located for comment, but Cook said she was expecting a second visit from the maintenance worker to look at the mold again. She said filing a written complaint also gives her a legal right to break the lease if nothing gets fixed.

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