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'It was and is still such a battle': Renters struggle to get help with mold issues

Law professor Jeffrey Swartz says when it comes to addressing mold in Florida, there are two statutes that come into play.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Melissa Cellurale rents an apartment in St. Petersburg. She said her issues started with a leaky roof.

“That was never fixed and 13 and a half months later, I was living in a complete nightmare,” Cellurale said.

Cellurale said mold started to spread throughout her apartment. She said she made several complaints, but nothing was done.

"I felt like I was living in a very toxic place," she said.

Understanding the law

Law professor Jeffrey Swartz explained when it comes to addressing mold in Florida, there are two statutes that come into play: The first is Statute 83.51.

"It says the landlord at all times during the tenancy shall comply with the requirements of applicable building, housing, or health codes," Swartz explained.

Then, there is Statute 83.52.

"It says the tenant shall at all times keep that part of the premises which he or she occupies and uses clean and sanitary," he said. 

Swartz said, in his experience, most of the time it’s not the renter's fault. He said, unfortunately, a lot of landlords don’t address the issues at hand.

"In Florida, especially in low-income housing, there’s a lot of problems where landlords just don’t fix anything," he said.

Applying the law

When something like this happens, Swartz said legal action is the next step. 

"You can take it to court or you can place the landlord on notice and end the tenancy," he explained.

Swartz said it's important for the renter to document everything. That includes things like pictures of the issue and proof that you notified the landlord of the problems on specific dates.

"If there is a lease, which many of these things are spelled out in a lease, you can claim that the landlord has failed to comply with the lease and put them on notice that you are canceling the lease and you are moving out," Swartz said.

Looking out for yourself

For Cellurale, she is now exploring taking her issue to court while figuring out what her next living situation will be.

"It was and is still such a battle," she said.

The Florida Department of Health lists several health problems that can be caused by mold.

Health experts say there are certain people who may be impacted sooner and more severely like babies, elderly people and someone with a weak immune system.

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