NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – An attorney who represents tenants in court says the key to winning a mold case is having as much documentation as possible. Jessica Klein got involved with mold cases first as part of Legal Aid Services and now as a private attorney. Klein contacted 10 On Your Side after our investigation Monday into extreme mold in Hampton Roads apartments.
If you want to win a mold case, Klein says you can never have too much paper trail. “The first step a tenant should do is write a letter to their landlord or property manager,” she says. “Do that immediately, and put it in writing and have it dated and signed and keep a copy.”
Regardless of how bad the mold may already be, written notice from the tenant to the landlord is required to get relief under Virginia law. Klein says photographs are just as important. Lab results from an air quality test can also help, but some tenants may not want to bear that expense. Once the landlord is notified that mold even could be present, they have to take steps to investigate and correct the problem.
“If there’s a water leak that’s creating the mold, then they would want to investigate where that water’s coming from, cause that water to stop. It just depends on what the issue is,” Klein said.
If the landlord does not take corrective action, then the tenant can file a tenant’s assertion and complaint, but the tenant can not just stop paying rent. “They can pay their rent into escrow, so the rent does continue to get paid, but the tenant can not withhold rent in Virginia,” Klein said.
A judge would decide who gets that escrowed rent – either the landlord or the tenant. In extreme cases a tenant can win relocation, but Klein says those are rare and judges look at each case on its own merits.
If a tenant believes that mold is causing sickness and wants to prove that in court, Klein advises getting a personal injury lawyer who is more specialized in that area of the law.