How to Prevent Mold Growth on Rental Properties

Mold growth prevention and mold removal methods are two of the most frequent tenant-related issues faced by rental property owners and managers — both residential and commercial.

While proactive building maintenance and incident response procedures certainly play a critical role in keeping mold and mold-based problems from occurring, getting tenants on board as partners in the effort to prevent and control mold outbreaks is an often overlooked and undervalued tactic in the battle.

This article focuses on the tenant/management aspects of a mold prevention strategy that can not only stop mold from becoming a problem in the first place, but can build an attitude of cooperation with far-reaching benefits for both parties.

What Causes Mold to Grow?

Mold is a type of fungus that’s abundantly present in the environment. You might find mold on cheese, on leather boots in the garage, or on the ceiling above a shower. There are many types of mold, but they all have one thing in common: Mold needs moisture in order to grow.

Mold spores can lie dormant on organic surfaces for years without causing a problem. Once moisture is introduced to the area, though, a mold outbreak can develop quickly.

Here are the two most important things to keep in mind regarding mold control:

  1. Mold grows where there is moisture
  2. Control the moisture, and you control the mold

Moisture control is the frontline defense against outbreaks of mold. Tenants who are armed with that information, know what to look for, and know how to report concerns to management can be major allies in the fight against mold. Prevention saves time, saves money, and helps safeguard the health of all concerned.

Why Tenants Should Be Educated About Mold Growth Prevention

By enlisting tenants to help with mold growth prevention, property owners and managers can use a negative topic (the potential for mold growth) to create a positive result (cooperation between tenants and management).

How can that relationship be established, though? The answer is so simple that it’s easy to miss: Management must educate tenants about why mold forms and how it can be prevented.

Mold is an often discussed, but little understood problem. Mutual ground can be established by first making sure tenants understand that mold cannot thrive without a source of moisture, then building awareness about the types of mold, the function mold plays in the environment, and the science behind mold and indoor air quality.

Sources of Moisture in Buildings

The two primary sources of unwanted moisture in a building are leaks and condensation. Leaks commonly appear under or around plumbing fixtures (leaking pipes, for example), on ceilings (leaking roof), and in or near showers or air conditioning units (condensation).

Spelling out the following responsibilities is helpful, but successful management teams go further than these:

  • Management’s responsibility is to monitor and maintain roofing, pipes, exhaust fans, and other areas where leaks are apt to occur
  • The tenant’s responsibility is to use exhaust fans consistently, to clean up spills and overflows immediately, and to promptly notify management when a problem or potential problem is discovered

The common ground is a mutual desire to prevent mold from forming and to keep the building as comfortable and safe as possible. There are times when management should be notified immediately, and there are times when the tenant should grab a towel and do some cleaning. Ideally, though, management and tenants will work together to fight against mold.

Ways to Get Tenants Excited About Mold Growth Prevention

The dangers of mold tend to be exaggerated, but the fear tenants can feel when mold is discovered is real. Because mold is universally abhorred, the fight against it provides a perfect opportunity for building bridges of understanding between the management team and tenants.

This may seem to be an oversimplification of a complex problem, but the main reason those who try to enlist tenant help in mold growth prevention fail is that they don’t give the concept a long enough or determined enough try.

Providing literature about mold in the new tenant packet is a good start, but it’s usually not enough to bring about the desired partnership.

Here are further suggestions on how to enlist tenants in the battle against mold and set a tone of mutual cooperation:

  • Insert information on the basics of mold and mold prevention into the talk and tour given to prospective tenants.
  • Include monthly reminders about the topic in the property newsletter, rent receipt envelopes, or other documents regularly given to tenants.
  • Design and post educational posters in strategic locations around the property.
  • Train maintenance personnel regularly on techniques for discussing mold prevention with tenants and the importance of the mold prevention program.
  • Design handouts maintenance personnel can provide to tenants when mold does develop in a building. Show staff how to use those handouts as talking points for demonstrating how tenants and staff can partner up to prevent further problems.
  • Host a quarterly meeting where management, maintenance staff, and tenants meet, eat, and discuss topics related to tenant satisfaction and building safety.

These suggestions may seem excessive. Is it wiser, though, to invest time and money on mold cleanup and defense of mold-based rental contract disagreements, or to divert resources to education and team-building to prevent mold problems from occurring in the first place? Furthermore, the toughest work is during the launch period of a mold growth prevention strategy. Once the program gets off the ground and the management/tenant culture on the property supports it, mold prevention will become second nature.

Developing an Effective Mold Growth Prevention Campaign Message

Effective messaging is clear, concise, and often repeated. A successful strategy for creating a management/tenant partnership for mold growth prevention might look like this:

  • Objective: Convince tenants that working with the management team to prevent mold is important and desirable.
  • Supporting point one: Mold can’t grow without moisture.
  • Supporting point two: Moisture control requires the vigilance of both the maintenance staff and tenants.
  • Supporting point three: Everyone wins when mold growth prevention awareness is developed and supported.
  • Call to action: Here’s how that staff/tenant partnership is being nurtured on this property. Join us.

Once the mission and methods to accomplish it are clearly and concisely defined, repeat that message often and by various means. A principle of marketing is that the more often and in more ways a message is heard, the more likely the prospect will believe it and act on it.

Get creative. Have fun. Grow the relationship steadily. Be sure to announce accomplishments, and create ways to make “being on the team” a rewarding experience. By working together to combat mold, property managers and tenants can build proactive relationships that can extend beyond the mold problem to other aspects of maintenance.

Tenants who know their safety and comfort are at the top of the owner’s list are more likely to stay longer, pay rent on time, and help spread positive reviews about the property and management.

Cooperation can many times overcome adversarial feelings. Coordinate with your risk management professionals and consider working this concept into your mold prevention strategy. Give it the commitment and consistency it deserves. Harness the power of teamwork to tackle mold and moisture issues.