Legal Matters

Hire the experts when it comes to mold damage

9 May, 2011 By: Esther Hertzfeld Hotel and Motel Management

Water damage and mold damage can cause severe property damage, may pose health risks and can be expensive to repair. Just ask the staff at Gaylord Opryland Resort—flooding severely affected its operations last May when heavy storms hit Nashville.

“Flood damage requires an extraordinarily complicated repair process,” said Colin V. Reed, chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, last year after the flooding. “We have had to manually test every aspect of our mechanical, electrical, information technology, and power generating systems in order to understand what works, what needs to be repaired, and what needs to be replaced. There is an entire city of infrastructure, which operates under the Gaylord Opryland campus, the majority of which was fully under water, and thus the assessment process has been extensive.”
Following months of cleanup, the property reopened in November.

Mold can cause severe property damage and may pose health risks. While it is generally accepted that mold can cause certain adverse health reactions in sensitive individuals, such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, fever or shortness of breath, there is no scientific agreement on whether airborne mold can be toxic to humans or responsible for serious and permanent adverse health effects.
Mold reproduces via tiny airborne spores and readily grows in the presence of moisture, food, and optimal temperatures. Excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding can quickly spawn the growth of mold on commonly used building materials that contain a high cellulose content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board and wallpaper.

For hoteliers to avoid liability when dealing with flooding and mold issues in their hotels, the best plan is to hire the experts to handle the mold and water damage situation.

"Mold and water damage may be confounding to many hotel manages because it is not something one customarily knows a lot about,” said Karen Morris, a lawyer who specializes in hotel litigation and HM legal columnist. “The good news is that managers do not need to be even semi-experts in this field. Rather, hire an expert and follow his/her advice concerning frequency of inspections, methods of inspection, and necessary clean up.”

Mold-related claims may be pursued against insurers for coverage, and against almost anyone else linked to a possible cause of the mold infestation, a misrepresentation, or a failure to disclose its presence. Claims have been asserted against architects, building contractors, HVAC designers, homeowners associations, building owners, property managers, landlords, land developers, real estate agents/companies and employers.

“Hiring those experts will go a long way not just toward avoiding liability in the event a guest suffers consequences of mold or water damage, but also toward protecting guests from such occurrences," Morris said.

While the American Hotel and Lodging Association doesn’t have standard guidelines regarding mold and/or water damage procedures, each hotel chain and hotelier should have different protocols in place for their guestrooms and facilities in the event of water and mold damage, said Melissa McIntyre, director of restaurant operations for the Tennessee Hospitality Association. Every hotel should have a disaster preparedness plan in place for such incidents.

The Environmental Protection Agency does have standards and guidelines in place for public and commercial buildings (see sidebar). The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) 2008 publication entitled "Recognition, Evaluation and Control of Indoor Mold" (known as the Green Book) has become what many refer to as the "gold standard" of mold information in the United States. The Green Book discusses the underlying principles and background of mold evaluation and control, the practice of identifying and evaluating mold damage, the evaluation of samples that are collected, the remediation process, and mold prevention and control.

Hiring the experts, in addition to following the EPA and AIHA standards and guidelines, is the best way to deal with potential mold issues and water damage in hotels.


Ten things to know about mold

1. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints.
2. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
3. If mold is a problem in your home or school, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.
4. Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.
5. Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60 percent) to decrease mold growth by: venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
6. Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
7. Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent, and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles, that are moldy, may need to be replaced.
8. Prevent condensation: Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation.
9. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).
10. Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.

Source: EPA


EPA resources for hotels

The Building Air Quality, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, provides practical suggestions on preventing, identifying, and resolving indoor air quality (IAQ) problems in public and commercial buildings. This guidance provides information on factors affecting indoor air quality; describes how to develop an IAQ profile of building conditions and create an IAQ management plan; describes investigative strategies to identify causes of IAQ problems; and provides criteria for assessing alternative mitigation strategies, determining whether a problem has been resolved, and deciding whether to consult outside technical specialists. Other topics included in the guide are key problem causing factors; air quality sampling; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; moisture problems; and additional sources of information. For more information on the Building Air Quality guide, visit

The EPA also have the Indoor Air Quality Building Evaluation and Assessment Model (I-BEAM). I-BEAM updates and expands EPA’s existing Building Air Quality guidance and is designed to be comprehensive state of the art guidance for managing IAQ in commercial buildings. This guidance was designed to be used by building professionals and others interested in indoor air quality in commercial buildings. I-BEAM contains text, animation/visual, and interactive/calculation components that can be used to perform a number of diverse tasks. For more information, visit

Additional resources include:
•An Office Building Occupant’s Guide to IAQ
•Biological Contaminants
•Building Air Quality Action Plan (for Commercial Buildings)
•Floods / Flooding
•Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Home Page
•IAQ in Large Buildings / Commercial Buildings
•Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings
•Mold Resources

Source: EPA


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