By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — They thought it was COVID, but a local family now believes they actually got sick from mold growing in their rental home — and they’re not alone.

There are no state or federal mold exposure limits, so it’s difficult to prove when mold is a health threat. However, state law is clear about one thing: landlords must provide a safe and healthy home. So, what are your rights if your life is turned upside down by mold? CBS13 Investigates.

Camping out with the family may seem like fun, but the Crenshaws say it was anything but fun when they were forced to camp in their yard.

Their saga began over the holidays when Carl and his wife thought they had COVID, then they discovered the mold.

“We thought we had COVID,” said Carl.

“You now think it was mold symptoms?” asked Julie Watts.

“We know it is now,” Carl said.

They say their symptoms got so bad they moved their family of seven into a tent in the yard as they waited for their landlord to remediate the mold. They have five children, ages 2 to 16.

But when the contractors finally came, Carl took video of the contractors, who, he says, simply scraped and painted over the mold without removing the Crenshaws’ belongings to prevent contamination or removing the contaminated drywall to treat the source of the mold.

“It’s really typical for us to find negligence in mold cases because to do it the right way is expensive,” said real estate attorney Joe Tobener.

Tobener does not represent the Crenshaws, but says that when a tenant notifies a landlord of mold in writing, they must properly remediate the mold. While California law doesn’t require a specific protocol, Tobenor says landlords should:

  • Move the tenants and their belongings out
  • Have contaminated items cleaned off-site
  • Treat the source of water intrusion
  • Remove contaminated drywall
  • Treat the interior of the walls where the mold has grown
  • Retest for mold

“Anything outside of that protocol is going to give rise to liability,” said Tobener.

He says that, in some cases, a lawyer may be your only option. They can sue your landlord to cover monetary damages, emotional distress and even the cost of a rent increase if you have to move.

But he says health claims can be tricky.

“You need the allergy test showing that you’re allergic to the very mold that was found in the unit,” Tobener said.

The California Health and Safety Code requires property owners to provide a rental unit that is safe and healthy. If a property owner does not respond to mold concerns, the local code enforcement agency can require the property owner to correct the problem.

Carl called Sacramento County Code Enforcement in January, but the landlord still hadn’t completed the work when CBS13 visited in March.

The Crenshaws showed us several mold reports that appear to indicate continued mold spores in the home.

Code enforcement tells CBS13 that they closed the case in April after additional work was done, stating the Arbors at Antelope property management:

“sent the officer two invoices to show the work they’ve completed at the unit. The first is an invoice for air duct cleaning dated January 20, 2022, and the second is a mold remediation invoice which says the unit was treated by placing a dehumidifier, an air mover, a negative air fan, and applying an anti-microbial agent to the surface area.”

According to the documents cited, there is no indication that any drywall was removed to inspect for, or treat, potential mold growing inside the affected walls.

The agency cited Heath and Safety Code, which they say only requires they inspect for “visible mold growth” and probable causes, like a water leak. They say Code Enforcement is not required to do further independent testing to determine the extent of hidden mold growth, noting that “any testing or abatement of mold is the responsibility of the property owner.”

The Arbors at Antelope Property Management would not tell CBS13 whether they had the unit independently tested for mold, but said in a statement:

“We take matters like this very seriously and scheduled initial remediation as quickly as possible. Those repairs were performed and completed by a licensed contractor.  Following the repairs, the resident did not permit us access to his unit nor did he communicate further concerns. We will continue to work diligently to resolve any outstanding concerns.”

CBS13 reviewed communications between the Crenshaws and the landlord that appeared to contradict that assertion. Arbors at Antelope did not immediately respond to our detailed follow-up questions.

We also spoke with Crenshaw’s neighbors who tell similar stories of mold. An attorney representing 86 tenants with mold complaints in the complex tells us several have young children.

While Tobener is not representing any of those families, the noted, “The research is really clear that kids that live in uninhabitable conditions are going to have long-term health impacts.”

So why not just move?

Several renters say they either can’t afford the high rents right now or don’t have money for deposits, application fees, or movers. Others say their applications are being denied as more landlords require high credit scores and incomes.

Meanwhile, the Crenshaws say most of their belongings have now been contaminated. A dumpster outside their home was filled with furniture, toys, and mattresses. They’re now staying in temporary housing while they struggle to find a new permanent home they can afford.

“I would like (to see) legislation to include mold damages (for renters),” said Carl. “That’s my overall goal, to make sure nobody ever gets hurt like this again.”

CBS13 sent several lists of detailed questions to the Arbors at Antelope Property Management. In response, they sent this additional statement:

“We take matters like these seriously and have hired a licensed contractor to address them. They have been working diligently to resolve every concern as quickly as possible after we are made aware of the concern. In addition, we have inspected every apartment at the community and taken action to resolve any issues that were uncovered. We ask that every resident with any outstanding concern reach out to us as soon as possible so we can take the appropriate next steps.”

NOTE: This story was updated to include an additional statement from The Arbors at Antelope. 

Julie Watts