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Marc Whitham Shares His Experience With Mold

February 23, 2016 4:52 p.m.

Marc Whitham, a tenant rights attorney, describes his experience renting a moldy apartment in 2007.

Related Story: California Law Gives Tenants New Recourse For Moldy Apartments


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I speak from personal experience because even before I was an attorney, when I was studying for the bar, I lived in a property that appeared OK. When I moved in it looked fine. A woman who lived in the same apartment complex and was a friend of my wife's contacted us and came over one day and said, "I would like you to take a look at my apartment if you could." And I said, "I'm busy. I'm studying for the bar." And she said, "I know. I didn't want to bother you, I just, I went to court today and I feel really badly because I tried to defend my case and I lost and now I'm being evicted and I'm going to have to move." And I said, 'I'm sorry to hear that. What can I do?" So I went over. I looked at this place and she had lived in the property probably between 12 to 15 years. And when you walked into this property, it smelled incredibly bad. I was like sticking your head underneath a moldy sink or, you know, something like that. The whole property reeked of mold. And it was visible from the floorboards all the way to the ceiling in certain rooms. The corner where her son was sleeping was just black as could be and the mold was out of control. And, uh, I was shocked. I said, 'It sounds really remarkable that you would go to court and show photos and there wouldn't be any sort of relief. And she said, "Well, I didn't have an attorney. I tried to represent myself and the judge just didn't want to hear it because the landlady said I just didn't want to pay the rent and was a deadbeat. And he basically didn't even care about the mold." And I said, "I wish you would have contacted me. Maybe I could have done something to help." And she said, "Well, the reason I'm contacting you now is because I want you to know right before you moved in the apartment that you live in looked just like mine and all they did was paint over it." And I was astounded. I couldn't believe it. I walked back to my apartment and I began to take a look around and I looked behind the kitchen sink – I got under there and peered up – and sure enough there's black mold growing up underneath my kitchen sink. I looked in the bedroom and spots were starting to appear on the bedroom walls. So I contacted the property manager and said, "I have an issue here. I need to know what's going on." The landlady said, "Oh, we'll send somebody out." And they pulled out the kitchen cabinet and there was a tree growing into it. Literally the roots of this tree were completely just wrapped into this cabinet and the foundation below. And what I learned was that the sprinkling system in this property was – the foundation was beneath it so the water was constantly running down into it and it was wicking up through studs right into my apartment. So on two different sides we were surrounded by complete moisture. And then on the other side there was faulty plumbing that was leaking and had never been repaired, and there was mold there, too. I was working with an attorney at the time – again, I wasn't in tenant rights or anything. I sent a demand to the landlady. I said, "I need to know what is going on. When did you know about mold? Was your property ever flooded in the past, previously? And I withheld some of the rent. But before I even did that, I called the city and I said, "Can I get some help here? I'm looking at a serious issue and I've seen some mold in this building and it's bad. It's not just me. It's other tenants that are affected. I talked to other tenants out there and several of them also had similar problems." And no, they wouldn't take any interest. They wouldn't get involved.