Apartment Dwellers Beware: How to Detect and Test for Mold

Rose Morrison

Apr 16, 2024

dirt and mold on the walls of a shower

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No one deserves to live in space that threatens their health. Mold commonly affects renters and homeowners by growing in dark, out-of-sight places, but you don’t have to feel stuck with it if you have a landlord. Check out how to test for mold in an apartment and what you can do about it today.

Do Apartments Get Moldy Often?

Apartments get moldy just like any other living space. The mold’s recurrence depends on unit-specific factors. If a renter always has leaky sinks or runs the shower without the ventilation fan on, the lingering water and higher humidity make mold growth more likely.

Renters can also deal with mold in older apartments that don’t get as much attention. Homeowners only have to take care of the one space they live in every day. Landlords don’t personally live in all of their units or check them daily. The rental management or maintenance team might miss things like faulty window caulking, leading to water leakage and mold growth.

Varying shades of light and dark brown mold cover a surface resembling a textile fabric. Some spots of the mold are also white and a red tint is along the edges of the fabric.

Signs Your Apartment Might Have Mold

There are numerous signs your apartment might have mold. You can always do a visual check around your windows, HVAC vents, pipes and doorways for fuzzy growths. However, sometimes people only recognize mold in their apartment after experiencing things like:

  • Cold symptoms like a constantly runny nose, headaches, itchy eyes or sneezing
  • Lingering musty odors in certain parts of the apartment
  • Water damage from recent or previous events like a pipe bursting
  • Discolored spots on the walls or ceilings that resemble dark puddles spreading

Take pictures of anything you consider moldy if you find the mold. You can use it as visual evidence when you ask your maintenance team to tackle the problem. However, experiencing headaches or cold symptoms without any visible mold growth could still indicate a mold problem. It just might be in places you can’t check, like the walls, ceilings or carpet.

How to Test for Mold In Your Apartment

Discover how to test for mold in your apartment by following these steps. You’ll quickly realize if you have a mold problem or if your symptoms are coming from another cause, like a virus or something causing a foul odor.

1. Get a Mold Test Kit

Mold test kits are available at most hardware stores, but you can also find them through online retailers. They often feature multiple testing methods, like swiping a surface to test for mold or placing a tray in your HVAC vent to catch airborne spores.

It may take a few days to see the test results but you’ll have definitive proof either way. Afterward, you can identify the specific mold in the test sample. People often encounter alternaria or acremonium by checking for a powdered consistency or identifying it by color.

2. Try a Moisture Meter

It’s more challenging for renters to identify their mold problem if it’s growing in their walls. If you suspect that’s where your mold is, use a moisture meter to test the drywall for moisture levels. If the reading is high, you can report it to your maintenance team so they contact professionals who can remove it without damaging your unit.

3. Conduct an Air Quality Test

You can also catch airborne mold with an air quality test kit that vacuums individual samples. You’ll have to send the results to the product’s corresponding testing facility and wait for them to run mold tests, but it’s a higher-quality way to get answers when you don’t see mold growing on any surfaces.

An arm wearing a light blue latex glove holds a blue spray bottle with a white cap toward a wooden floor. The bare wood panels don't appear dirty but the spray bottle solution is supposed to clean it. Wooden panels are in the background, slightly matching the floor.

How to Get Rid of Apartment Mold

If you definitely have mold in your apartment, get rid of it with these strategies. Depending on your resources and your landlord, it could be a simple fix.

1. Clean With a Biocide

Biocide sprays remove mold with specific chemical agents that neutralize the individual colonies. It’s the fastest way to make your apartment liveable without paying for professional services. Clean the mold growth areas according to the directions on your product’s packaging and it should become a thing of the past.

2. Complete Any Repair Work

Sometimes mold grows in apartments due to leaky pipes or cracked window caulking. If that’s the case, you should contact your maintenance team to repair the areas after you clean the mold away. It’ll prevent the mold from returning, saving you time and protecting your health.

3. Contact Your Landlord

If you’re unable to make your mold go away by yourself and your maintenance team won’t fix the issue, you may have to contact your landlord. Some leases have specific clauses addressing the landlord’s responsibility for environmental hazards in each rentable unit. Those clauses can even specifically outline how they’ll handle mold.

If your lease does not have this clause, look for a section entitled “Implied Warranty of Habitability.” It legally requires landlords to maintain habitable premises according to your local housing code. You may cite this part of your lease to get your landlord to solve the mold problem faster because if they don’t uphold it, tenants often aren’t legally responsible for sticking with the remainder of their leases.

Once your landlord knows you understand your legal rights, they’ll likely want to avoid small claims court. They’ll fix your problem right away to solve the issue and make the unit rentable whether you choose to renew your lease or not.

When to Ask for Help

Mold that returns after you attempt to clean it with a biocide shouldn’t remain just your problem. Your maintenance team or a local mold removal company hired by your landlord can solve the issue more effectively.

If you request that your landlord conduct a mold inspection and they refuse or they refuse to fix the issue, you may need to take the matter to small claims court. Bring photo evidence of the mold throughout your time in the apartment and evidence of your landlord’s refusal to fix it. The court may force them to pay for an inspection and any repair costs to make your unit liveable.

Some people don’t prefer to go to small claims court due to the time and money it takes. You can also contact your landlord and ask if you can pay a mold inspection and removal company to fix your unit for you. It would save the landlord money and make their unit rentable for future tenants, so they might be more inclined to say yes. You’ll skip endless maintenance requests where the on-site maintenance team uses store-bought solutions you might have already tried to banish the mold with no positive results.

An old room with a paneled ceiling is covered in mold and decaying. The ceiling has slightly green squares with carved white flowers in them. The corner of a ceiling is in the middle of the frame and the walls on either side are rotting with mold. A stretch of metal lighting partially extends across the ceiling.

Enjoy a Cleaner Apartment Today

It’s time to reclaim your health and peace of mind now that you know how to test for mold in your apartment. Try these tips to remove it yourself or get expert help. You’ll protect your well-being better throughout the rest of your lease for your efforts.


Are Landlords Required to Test for Mold?

There are currently no federal laws requiring landlords to test for mold or limit its growth. Check your lease for a mold or Implied Warranty of Habitability clause to see what they have to do according to the legally enforceable lease you signed. If there’s nothing in your lease about mold and you can’t get rid of it yourself, a small claims court could make your landlord take action.

How Do You Know if There Is Mold in Your Apartment?

You’ll know if there’s mold in your apartment if you feel like you constantly have a cold, smell bad odors or see mold growing in the same places recurrently. Any of these things mean it’s time to take action so the spores no longer affect your health.

What Are Mold Sickness Symptoms?

Mold sickness symptoms are similar to the common cold because the spores cause a runny nose, sneezing, stuffiness and throat irritation. If you have these symptoms for weeks without any relief, it could mean your apartment has mold.

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