Renters’ Rights: What to do if you have mold where you live

Woman says her apartment on Jacksonville’s Southside is ‘just unlivable’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Trysta Wallace said the mold and plumbing problems in the bathroom of the apartment she rented on the Southside became so disgusting she couldn’t use the toilet or take a shower.

“I use the port-a-potty up the street. I pee in a cup and I take a bird bath in the kitchen,” she explained. “It’s in the middle of the night, where can I go? I can’t make it up the street, I would pee myself.”

She said she stopped going into the bathroom entirely when the mold started getting really bad.

“It’s all over the ceiling and here, under the sink,” she pointed.

Mold on ceiling. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)
Mold under sink. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

When she reported the problems to the property manager, Wallace said, “They just looked at me and said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Wallace tries not to open the door to the bathroom, since the smell is so rancid it is hard to breath without gagging. The toilet has been clogged, she said, for months. There appear to be about 7 inches of water backed up in the tub. There are dead flies floating in it. The water is brown.

“It’s just unlivable. This won’t go down,” she said, pointing to the tub.

Clogged tub. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

While the News4JAX I-TEAM was there, she also moved clothes away from the wall between the tub and toilet, revealing a hole.

“The wall is just caving in. It’s bad,” she said.

She said that when she complained again, she showed an employee in the property management office pictures of her bathroom.

“They won’t do anything,” she said.

She said she was told the office would need to take its own pictures, which she said they did.

“That was two weeks ago, and nothing’s been done,” Wallace insisted.

Toilet and tub. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)
Toilet and tub. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Wallace stopped paying rent because she said she didn’t think she should have to pay given the disgusting conditions in her bathroom. She was served with an eviction notice.

Toilet and sink. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

We walked to the property manager’s office. The woman working in the office told the I-TEAM she had no maintenance complaints in her records for Wallace’s unit. She provided the number of her manager, who we called. The manager told me, the same. No record of any recent complaints associated with mold and plumbing problems in the bathroom.

Wallace did not have anything in writing documenting her complaints to the property manager. She also said she did not call code enforcement to report the plumbing problems. She said she didn’t know she should.

These are two critical mistakes that make it difficult to successfully petition the court to drop an eviction filed against her for non-payment of rent.

“The rules that permit the withholding of rent are contained in different parts of the statute, and if you don’t follow the procedures exactly right, you may not be protected under the law,” explained Mary DeVries, division chief of the Housing Unit for JALA, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

DeVries said there are certain steps a tenant must follow before withholding rent:

  • Provide proof of a health, safety or building code violation. Code enforcement can issue a fine against a landlord if inspectors find a violation and it is not corrected.
  • Tenant must provide notice to the landlord.
  • Notice needs to advise landlord if repair not made within seven days, they will exercise right to withhold rent or terminate the lease.
  • Notice should be in writing, mailed or hand-delivered to the landlord.

Mold and maintenance complaints are the most common reasons tenants contact our newsroom or our I-TEAM. They tell us they are frustrated their landlord is not doing enough to fix the problem(s) or is not doing anything at all to remedy the living conditions. No one should live in unsafe conditions, but under Florida law, tenants need to know their rights so they are protected before they just decide to stop paying the rent. Something else, DeVries said, “Keep in mind, that the withholding can only be for future rent, so you can’t withhold rent that is already past due.”


You should know the mere presence of mold is not necessarily a building code violation.

“Not all types of mold are harmful,” explained DeVries. “Under Florida statutes, landlords are required to comply with local building, safety and health codes, and so if the mold on its own is not causing a violation of the building or health or safety code, then the landlord is not required to correct it.”

This may surprise a lot of tenants. In fact, we contacted the mayor’s office asking how code enforcement responds to mold complaints. A spokesperson responded.

“Municipal Code Compliance Division staff is not trained to detect mold, nor are they set up to test for mold. However, MCCD can address some of these issues under ‘unsanitary conditions’ of their ordinance. It is important to point out that both the tenant and landlord have shared responsibility when it comes to these types of issues. The owners are responsible for addressing issues that may cause certain unsanitary conditions (such as water leaks), but the tenant must also take due care and maintain the property. The short answer is MCCD can address it under unsanitary conditions, but they do not test or address mold specifically,” wrote the city of Jacksonville’s Public Affairs Office.

DeVries suggested that if a tenant has mold in their home, they should report it to the landlord and should also call code enforcement.

“Even though the mold may not cause an unsafe situation, the thing that is causing the mold might be unsafe. So if there is a leak in the ceiling or in the roof, that might cause an issue and by having code enforcement come out, code enforcement can determine if there is some kind of safety violation for which the landlord needs to make the repair,” she said.

JALA provides free legal advice to the public. It has offices throughout Northeast Florida. Its website also provides the form needed to notify a landlord of a tenant’s intent to withhold rent or terminate a lease. You can reach JALA’s downtown Jacksonville office by calling 904-356-8371.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.