On Friday, the Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) released important new regulations requiring landlords to inspect and remediate mold in rental housing. The final regulations, which implement the Air Quality Amendment Act of 2014, create one of the strongest regulatory frameworks in the country for ensuring that tenants do not have to live with indoor mold.
The Air Quality Amendment Act’s new requirements for landlords to inspect and remediate indoor mold filled a critical gap in existing law. The District of Columbia previously lacked any statute or regulations directly addressing mold, leaving tenants with few legal remedies to force recalcitrant landlords to make repairs. The Act and the new regulations now provide detailed requirements, as well as new private remedies for tenants enforcing the Act, including rent abatement, reimbursement of assessment costs, attorney’s fees, and court costs.
To ensure that mold assessment and remediation are effective, DOEE was tasked with developing professional standards and licensing for both. The new regulations require landlords to use professional assessors and remediators whenever visible mold in an affected area exceeds 10 square feet. DOEE also developed strong licensing requirements and guidelines for both assessment and remediation that reflect industry best practices.
These new standards respond to a critical public health problem: far too many of the District’s residents are forced to live with indoor mold in their homes. Low-income tenants in particular may be forced to accept poor housing conditions such as mold in order to find affordable units. The presence of mold is not simply an inconvenience, it is a serious health risk, associated with asthma and other respiratory tract problems. These concerns are heightened in the District, where childhood asthma rates and emergency room visits are significantly higher than national averages, particularly in low-income areas.
Legal Aid is part of a group of tenants’ advocates – including the Children’s Law Center, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Bread for the City, Housing Counseling Services, the Latino Economic Development Center, and the Office of the Tenant Advocate – that worked to help win passage of the Air Quality Amendment Act. Legal Aid also participated in a diverse working group convened by DOEE to review and comment on the proposed regulations. We look forward to continuing our work on this important public health issue.