Laws on leprosy are probably not the first place one looks for biblical laws that are still in force for believers, but if you live in a place like Florida where mold is a problem, perhaps it should be. If you have ever rented an apartment in Florida or other humid places, odds are that like me you have had to sign a mold addendum , an unbiblical attempt to limit the liability of mold for an owner that places the liability on the tenant. If you are a landlord, and you are a believer in the Bible, to require a mold addendum for your tenants is a sin, because the liability on leprous houses (and mold is a type of leprosy according to the Bible) belongs to the owner of a building. If you want to look at the relevance of biblical law to the modern world, the law of leprous houses is a good place to look.
Mold removal costs can be expensive, ranging from $500 to $30,000 (2011 dollars) in a single house or apartment, depending on whether it is toxic black mold or a less ferocious variety . For this reason many apartment building owners seek to reduce their own liability, because they wish to profit without paying for expenses whenever possible. This sort of sharp, corrupt business practices of externalizing liabilities while maximizing profits leads them to ignore the scripture, though given their interest in making profits and their lack of concern with legal or moral liabilities, and the general lack of awareness about biblical law, this is not a surprising development.
The Responsibilities of Owner And Priest
The laws concerning leprous houses, which deals with such matters as mold, mildew, dry rot, and so on, made certain requirements on both the owner of the house (or apartment) and the priest, whose responsibility it was to conduct an examination of the rot as a building inspector. It should be noted that the responsibilities of building inspector as a priestly office has implications for its importance and value in the present day as well as the standards of that noble office.
In light of that biblical responsibility, let us divide the law on leprous houses into several sections to examine them separately before bringing them together. First, let us look at the initial responsibility of the building owner and the priest. Then, let us look at the biblical responsibilities for dealing with the first outbreak. Then, let us look at what happens if the leprous plague of mold or mildew or dry rot returns to a house that has already been examined. Finally, let us examine the responsibility of the proper owner after a house has been made clean.
Step One: The Initial Responsibilities of The Owner And Priest
The initial responsibilities of the owner and priest are given in Leviticus 14:33-38: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you as a possession, and I put the leprous plague in a house in the land of your possession, and he who owns the house comes and tells the priest, saying, ‘It seems to me that there is some plague in the house,’ then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest goes into it to examine the plague, that all that is in the house may not be made unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to examine the house. And he shall examine the plague; and indeed if the plague is on the walls of the house with ingrained streaks, greenish, or reddish, which appear to be deep in the wall, then the priest shall go out of the house, to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days.”
Let us examine these responsibilities. First of all, the owner has the responsibility of going to the priest to determine if a plague is leprous. This assumes that the priests have an expertise in recognizing the difference between leprous molds/rots and those that are not. Therefore ancient Israel’s priests were required to be trained building inspectors in addition to their other duties (or perhaps there was a specialization of priests who were building inspectors). If the owner was a landlord, the owner’s responsibility was when the tenant complained to him about the mold. This was not a light action, as the house was to be emptied out because all that remained in a leprous house became unclean.
With regards to property owners, let us remember that complaining about a leprous house meant storing one’s belongings somewhere for a week, as well as finding a place to stay for a week while the house was under quarantine. If you owned a leprous house, you had to deal with that expense on your own. If you were a tenant, it would be the responsibility of the property owner to provide storage for belongings as well as hotel accommodations (if they could not find someone to crash with for a week).
Step Two: After The Quarantine
Leviticus 14:39-42 gives the instructions of what to do after the quarantine of seven days is complete: “And the priest shall come again on the seventh day and look; and indeed if the plague has spread on the walls of the house, then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which is the plague, and they shall cast them into an unclean place outside the city. And he shall cause the house to be scraped inside all around, and the dust that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city. Then they shal take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other mortar and plaster the house.”
Let us note the response to a plague of leprosy in a house. First of all, if the plague is found to be leprous (it has spread during the week), then the plaster or paint is to be scraped off and the rotted/moldy structure of the house is to be removed and replaced, at the owner’s expense (whether the owner is an apartment building owner or a homeowner, unless there is some kind of insurance for the building). It is also important to note, though, that this provision would require every city and town to contain and maintain a dump or landfill for unclean building materials that was outside of the city. Presumably, this area would remain permanently unclean due to the materials that were placed in it. This law therefore places responsibilities on local communities as well to provide suitable places for waste disposal to preserve the sanitary condition of the local community.
Step Three: If The Plague Returns
Leviticus 14:43-47 provides the instructions for what happens if leprosy returns to a house after it has been treated: “Now if the plague comes back and breaks out in a house, after he has taken away the stones, after he has scraped the house, and after it is plastered, then the priest shall come and look; and indeed if the plague has spread in the house, it is an active leprosy in the house. It is unclean. And he shall break down the house, its stones, its timber, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them outside the city to an unclean place. Moreover he who goes into the house at all while it is shut up shall be unclean until evening. And he who lies down in the house shall wash his clothes, and he who eats in the house shall wash his clothes.”
Let us examine what this passage means. If after the initial remediation, the mold or rot returns, and it is found to be an active leprosy, the house is torn down. Again, this would either require insurance for rebuilding or the owner (of the house or apartment building) would have to eat the cost of rebuilding the condemned building. This, needless to say, would be a serious expense. The fact that the owner possessed this absolute liability (a liability that they could not pass off under biblical law to someone else) required substantial vigilance on their part to ensure that their property would not be destroyed by mold or other rot.
Additionally, though there was some responsibility placed on those who slept or ate in a house or apartment building if it was condemned for leprosy. Anyone who slept or ate in the house would be ceremonially unclean for the day, with the responsibility of washing (cleaning) one’s clothes, the same uncleanness one would have for touching bodily fluids or a corpse of any kind. Additionally, anyone who dwelt in a condemned house would now have to seek other housing after the building was condemned (presumably this would also apply to businesses and buildings in general that were found to be leprous as well, though the law discusses housing specifically).
Step Four: If The Building Is Clean
Leviticus 14:48-53 discusses the possibility that the leprosy has not spread in a house: “But if the priest comes in and examines it, and indeed the plague has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. And he shall take, to cleanse the house, two birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. Then he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water; and he shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and the running water and the living bird, with the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the scarlet. Then he shall let the living bird loose outside the city in the open field, and make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.”
The ritual for pronouncing a house clean after it has suffered a leprous mold or rot is obscure, but it is very much like the Azazel goat ceremony on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, which makes sense given the context of Leviticus as a whole. In both the Azazel goat ceremony and the leprous house bird ceremony one of the animals is killed with the blood serving to cleanse something that is unclean (a house, or a sinful nation), and the other animal is cast out into the wilderness alive to bear the guilt and sin, and to cleanse it from the believer. Clearly, there are some heavy symbolic implications here concerning the ultimate burden and responsibility for cleansing and getting rid of sin. Blood is required for the atonement of sin.
I would now like to close this examination of the law of leprous houses with some comments on the implication of this law to modern times. I would first like to focus on the aspect of mold as uncleanness and sin, requiring atonement. I would then like to focus on why the responsibility is placed by God on property owners. I would then like to close with some suggestions on how property owners can share that burden in a way that meets the biblical requirement of strict liability.
It appears, given the need for atonement for leprosy, and the fact that those who live in houses with mold or mildew (or who eat in them) are pronounced ceremonially unclean, that there is an aspect of “sin” that relates to issues like mold or rot. A large part of the sin would appear to fall on the builders of houses and buildings, if they do not provide sufficient moisture barriers or ways of getting rid of humidity within a building. Smaller portions of blame might fall on owners or renters. Nonetheless, all must bear some cost as a result of the leprosy–a homeowner, business, or tenant could lose their home and livelihood because a building was condemned. Even the initial quarantine of seven days would require expenses and inconvenience for a family or a business, along with the expense of having to engage in remediation efforts. Sin carries with it a price–even if that sin is not your own. Ultimately, those that own the house or building carry the liability and responsibility of dealing with the problem (presumably they could bring a faulty builder under a lawsuit given the information of the priest/building inspector concerning the source and origin of the mold and its spread). If a house was pronounced unclean, it had to be torn down and destroyed, and if a house was pronounced clean, it had to be atoned with blood. The same is true of us as people regarding the burden of sin.
Why does this responsibility belong primarily to the owners of property? With ownership comes responsibility. It is common in these wicked days for people to desire the rights and privileges of ownership without the responsibility. We want to outsource our burdens and problems and internalize our profits and benefits. Unfortunately, God’s law is even-handed in determining that those who own get to profit from their buildings, and so are also responsible for what goes on in their buildings. The placement of the responsibility of dealing with mold and other leprous buildings on the owner makes any kind of mold addendum seeking to pass that responsibility on the tenant ungodly, and makes the owner of a building (presumably either an apartment or a business building) absolutely liable in the case that a mold or rot outbreak is found in a building.
What could an owner do about these responsibilities? A few possibilities appear to exist. One is the purchase of insurance to cover the cost of mold remediation and rebuilding of condemned buildings, if such insurance existed. Needless to say, claims made against this insurance would tend to drastically increase premiums. Other possibilities include self-insurance, to be covered by a portion of rent proceeds for a building owner. Additionally it may be possible to prosecute a builder who fails to provide sufficiently for getting rid of humidity. It may even be possible, if the fault of a tenant can be proven, to sue a tenant for damages, though it would not permissible for an owner to pass of his responsibility as a normal course of action (as is the case with a mold addendum).
In conclusion, the law concerning leprous houses is a law with considerable relevance to contemporary culture given the problem of mold remediation and its expenses and the desire of owners to escape their godly responsibilities. There are at least two lessons to be learned from this law–first, that owners have responsibilities that they cannot legitimately pass off that are connected with their rights and privileges as property owners, and second, that the atonement of homes with leprosy (mold, dry rot, mildew, and so on) is similar to our own atonement as sinful and corrupt individuals. We will either be purified by the blood of Christ or our house will be destroyed and we will be cast out of the community and family of God, should we refuse to repent and be restored under God’s terms. We clearly have a major responsibility that still remains applicable to our lives here and now.