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D.C. housing inspectors could check for mold in rental properties under new bill

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As of now, tenants largely have to rely on their landlords’ good graces to have mold remediated

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Trying to get rid of toxic mold can be a byzantine process for renters in the District. That’s because, under current law, they must first notify their landlords of the problem in writing, and then essentially hope for the best. If a landlord fails to respond or to address any mold issues, a renter can go to court or hire an outside assessor, according to the D.C. government.

This situation often leaves tenants in the lurch, particularly low-income people, say housing advocates. But new legislation that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson proposed earlier this week could help protect renters from mold issues. The “Mold Remediation Enforcement Amendment Act of 2019” would require housing inspectors from the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to receive formal training for spotting mold issues.

The D.C. Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) issues licenses for private mold assessors, but does not inspect for mold itself. Meanwhile, DCRA housing inspectors check for all manner of residential property issues, but do not have the authority to evaluate mold. Under Mendelson’s bill, all DCRA housing inspectors would obtain certification from DOEE.

This prospective change would permit DCRA inspectors to cite landlords for mold and issue “Class 4” infractions, valued at $100 for the first offense and as much as $800 for the fourth and later offenses, if a landlord does not address mold within 30 days of being notified. The bill does allow landlords to request extensions for remediating mold if they have made “good faith efforts” to do so or the mold is so serious that it would take more than 30 days to treat it. The bill also says landlords and tenants can appeal DCRA rulings in administrative court.

A supermajority of the Council preliminary supports the legislation. Mendelson floated it at the Council’s Feb. 5 legislative meeting and forwarded it to the committee on transportation and the environment for consideration, which Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh chairs. It may see a public hearing in the coming months. (Cheh signed on to the bill as a co-sponsor.)

The move comes as the Council considers dividing DCRA, a long-beleaguered agency, into a buildings department and a licensing department. Recently, Mayor Muriel Bowser put the former head of the Department of For-Hire Vehicles, Ernest Chrappah, in charge of DCRA.