California Senate Bill 655 – signed into law October 9th 2015 – provides authority to local government agencies to address mold complaints in substandard housing. He further says that by expanding the definition of a crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated program requiring local agencies to have health or code enforcement officers trained in mold inspection practices.
By Bruce White, Vice President at American Environmental Specialists
Welcome to the State of Mass Confusion aka California. On October 9, 2015 our Governor signed into legislation Senate Bill 655, authored by Senator Mitchell. Specifically for all those who love to delve into the minutae of legislation, it added Section 1941.7 to the Civil Code which further adds to our Health & Safety Code Section amendments to Section 17920.3, paragraph 13 of subdivision (a). I’ll not bore most of you readers with the details other than to tell you I’d be very wary if you rent or own rental property. Through this enacted legislation, we have now placed housing “Code Enforcement Officers” and a “health officer” in the precarious position of citing you for a criminal misdemeanor and subject to fines, penalties and prosecution. Have your attention yet?
Let’s take a look at the exact verbiage and see if we can find some ‘opportunities for discussion’. Verbatim, this is Sec. 2., Section 17920.3 (a)(13): ” Visible mold growth, as determined by a health officer or a code enforcement officer, as defined in Section 829.5 of the Penal Code, excluding the presence of mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their properly functioning and intended use.”
Where shall we begin the discussion…. yikes! It’s kind of like the proverbial question of “How do you eat and elephant?”. Answer: One bite at a time. Let’s pick up our fork and knife and begin, shall we?
Health Office or Code Enforcement Officer – Most code enforcement officers receive little if any training on issues dealing with micro-organisms, especially mold. What makes them qualified to determine whether it’s mold or algae, and as the law says, ‘mold that is minor’. Look at the photo in the beginning of the article and a couple more. What is ‘minor’???
Now once you’ve made that part of the decision, move on to the other part of the law of ‘found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their properly functioning [and intended] use’. As far as I recall from my college days, if you had a window in a bathroom, or a ledge with a window in a bath/shower stall, it ‘can accumulate moisture as part of it’s properly functioning use’! So, how in the world does one of these officers determine:
1. Intended Use
2. Properly Functioning
3. Surfaces that can (or cannot) accumulate moisture
4. ‘Minor’ mold
5. What can, or cannot be excluded without sampling
Anyone else in agreement with me yet?
Next, let’s chat about what type of training these officer should receive, and to what standards will they be trained. It seems the law doesn’t speak to that (nor who’s going to pay for, oversee, and make sure, they’re competent to that standard (testing). And for that matter, what protocol, if any, will be required of the lessor to remove the offending materials.
We are all certainly aware, telling someone to clean something up, doesn’t necessary obligate or require them to have it done professionally. This is where the slippery slope of this whole law comes into play. Let’s say ‘Hank the Kindhearted” [Building Code Inspector] determines it’s not minor mold as stated in the law and cites the lessor to bring it into compliance. I don’t know about you, but most likely taking the cheapest way out correct? So chances of them calling a professional remediation company or individual trained in how to limit exposure to occupants and furnishings, and maybe complication some health condition isn’t going to happen. ‘Sid the Handyman’ is coming to do it with a hammer, bleach, or cover the problem over with paint. There,,, all fixed!
There is some leeway for the lessor on when he’s required to repair something and he has to be notified of the dilapidation. In other words, if a tenant allows something to go wrong, doesn’t report it, or doesn’t maintain it, does the lessor then get to wipe his hands of the issue? The law is not clear on exactly when this must then be remediated. Stay tuned for more legislation.
Speaking of more legislation and costs, by expanding the definition of this as a misdemeanor, therefore a crime, it will impose a state-mandated local program for all cities. And California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies for certain costs the State mandates. Hmmm,,,, I hear my tax dollars taking the bullet train to nowhere to fund SB655….
If you’d like a copy of the bill you can find it on line or drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to electronically send you the good news!