INDIANAPOLIS -- With all the recent rains pounding down on homes, the Marion County Public Health Department is being flooded with complaints about mold.
“About 50 percent of the calls we receive for housing-related issues are for mold,” said Lara Morgan, team leader with the Marion County Public Health Department. “We’re getting a lot of calls about back-ups in basements, moldy cabinets, leaks and things like that.”
Sabrina Walker contacted Call 6 Investigates about mold in her northeast side Indianapolis apartment.
“There’s mold and mildew and it stinks,” said Walker.
Walker showed Call 6 Investigates mold spores in her unused dishwasher as well as under the kitchen sink.
Walker is also without a working air conditioning unit and window screens.
She said two of her four children have been suffering from breathing problems.
“Their asthma flares up, so I have to use an inhaler or breathing treatment for them,” said Walker. “It’s terrible.”
Walker said she contacted property management and maintenance several times about the problems.
“I work every day and pay my bills and try to give my kids a healthy and stable environment,” said Walker. “This is what I get for nearly $1,000 a month.”
The health department said tenants should be concerned about mold inside their home.
“Mold, no matter what it is, should be addressed," said Morgan. “They shouldn’t live like that.”
Mold does not have to be black, and is usually caused by a water leak or seepage.
“It can be behind walls, and it’s not normally seen until it’s a large scale water problem,” said Morgan. “Landlords have to find where the leak is coming from and fix it up to the point where the mold is growing.”
The health department has about 30 inspectors looking at mold related complaints every day.
They aim to respond to mold complaints within three days and landlords typically have 30 days to address the problem.
Sabrina Walker contacted the health department, and inspectors found 11 different violations at her apartment including mold, a broken dishwasher, missing window screens, missing air conditioner, inadequate bathroom ventilation, damaged ceilings, and defective wiring.
The property manager, Janet, declined to talk to Call 6 Investigates on camera, but said they are working to fix all the issues and they value their residents’ maintenance requests.
Janet said she has only been working with the apartment complex for the past four months, and was unaware of Walker’s problems.
Walker is now facing eviction for not paying her May rent, which she didn’t pay because of the mold problems and because she plans to move out in a few days.
“I'm not just thinking about my kids’ well-being. I'm thinking about other kids’ well-being that's going to come in here," said Walker.
The health department recommends trying to resolve issues with your landlord first, and if that doesn’t work, to call their office at (317) 221-2150.
What are your rights as a renter?
RENTER RIGHT #1 - You have the right to a clean, safe and habitable property
Landlords are typically required to maintain plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and appliances.
RENTER RIGHT #2 - You have the right to repairs within a reasonable time frame
If you notify your landlord in writing, you have the right to get repairs made in a reasonable time frame.
Indiana Code does not designate a particular time frame for maintenance issues. However, it often depends on whether it’s an emergency or not.
RENTER RIGHT #3 - You have the right to a full accounting of your security deposit
If you do move out, give the landlord your new address.
You have a right to know, after vacating a property, what your landlord has done with your security deposit. They’re required to provide you an itemized statement within 45 days.
RENTER RIGHT #4- You have the right to fight back in court
You have the right to file a lawsuit against your landlord. Most landlord-tenant disputes end up in small claims courts because of the lower dollar amounts involved.
RENTER RIGHT #5- You don’t have the right to withhold rent
If you fail to pay your rent, the apartment complex may call you into court for back rent, damages to the apartment and eviction.
The Marion County Public Health Department says if a tenant stops paying rent, that can severely limit what the agency can do to help.
RENTER RIGHT #6- You have a right to call the health department:
“A landlord can’t evict you for calling the health department,” said Brian Dunkel of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. “A landlord can’t change the locks or shut off utilities simply because they don’t like you, or even if you haven’t paid your rent.”
RENTER RIGHT #7- You have the right to move
If the repairs are not being done, and it’s not a habitable property, you can vacate the property. If you do move out, you are effectively terminating that lease.
RESOURCES FOR RENTERS:
• Marion County Public Health Department (317) 221 - 2150
• Neighborhood Christian Legal Center (317) 415-4337
• HUD Renters' Rights
• Tenant Landlord Coalition (317) 322-2369
• Indiana Apartment Association
• Fact sheet from Civil Rights Commission
• Tips from Better Business Bureau