Staff and officials in the City of Austin are seeking additional protections related to mold issues in rental housing. (Courtesy of the City of Austin)
Months after the fallout from winter storm Uri, the city is looking to revamp how it can help tenants with mold in their apartments, a problem that has grown in the wake of the storm.
The weeks and months following the February disaster saw hundreds of violations related to potentially dangerous housing conditions recorded across Austin, including dozens of interior water damage that can often be linked to problems with mold.
âNo one should be trapped in an apartment full of mold and crumbling ceilings. â¦ These health and safety violations that have lasted for months at the hands of mismanagement are inexcusable, âDistrict 4 Council member Greg Casar said in a May statement.
In response to complaints, a municipal council resolution sponsored by Casar and adopted in early May, city staff have been tasked with reviewing local and national mold in rental housing policy and improving the way Austin deals with tenant complaints. That review was detailed in September in a report from the Austin Department of Code outlining the city’s current approach to handling mold complaints and how that process could be improved. Topics of interest to the department included tenant insurance, training code staff, and reviewing city policy.
Casar said the report provides a basis for next steps on the issue and that he plans to continue researching how the city can protect and help tenants facing mold in their homes.
“This report is a step forward, but the next step is necessary,” Casar said in a statement. âThe city needs to make it very clear that homeowners need to remove mold from apartments, otherwise they are breaking the law. Nowhere else in the state regulates mold, and Austin has an opportunity to lead the way in protecting residents from this serious health issue. My office plans to work with the code department, housing advocates and tenants to make this change as soon as possible. “
One solution suggested by the code department could see city funds used to provide rental insurance to tenants without coverage, given the “heavy expenses” of policies for those on fixed incomes, staff said. Another possibility involved expanding the Austin Rental Housing Development Assistance Program, or RHDA, and funding it for construction projects that could make apartments less vulnerable to unwanted moisture and mold problems.
The code department also said changes to its inspection and repair guidelines could improve the way mold complaints are handled in the future. Recommendations include switching to a new type of moisture meter for all inspectors – estimated at a total cost of $ 40,000 that could be spread over several years – and adopting new water damage repair guidelines. which will be developed with the Texas Mold Assessors and Remediation Association. .
Water damage training for a handful of the ministry’s top inspectors through the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification was also recommended at an initial cost of $ 4,000.
The Code Department’s analysis looked at how other jurisdictions approach mold issues and found a few examples of mold testing and related safety standards or tenant protections at the local, state, and national levels. Code staff also found that no large city or small municipality examined in the ministry’s review offers moving assistance for tenants who have mold issues in their apartments that require remodeling.
Staff said Austin offers financial assistance and repair service support for eligible homeowners and affordable housing developers in certain cases of safety or emergency issues.
The code department said effective next steps would be mostly internal adjustments rather than wholesale changes to city policy.
âBased on these results, staff do not recommend creating specific regulations for the presence of mold, as there are no standards or levels established to serve as the basis for the design of such a language. ‘arrangement. However, the City of Austin can take steps to improve our response to mold issues in rental housing, âstaff wrote.
Other city actions could include code department adjustments, with additional actions potentially spilling over into city council actions for budgeting or building code changes. Casar said his office continues to review existing tenant protections and policies.