Posts Tagged ‘home inspector’

My Toxic Mold Nightmare part 2 The Fight

April 24, 2010
 
Through out the drama, the most popular phrase I heard over and over again is that New York is a “Caveat Emptor” state; or “Buyer Beware”. In the case of real property, NYS attempts to protect the consumer by having the sellers complete a Disclosure Statement and giving the purchaser the right to have a home inspection completed. The people who sold me this home were not honest when they completed the Disclosure Statement. They stated the roof did not leak, along w/numerous other misreprentations.  There are no penalties for inaccurate, misleading or false reporting on the Sellers Disclosure Statements. Despite contacting numerous law enforcement agencies, I was advised that what the sellers had done was a ‘gray area of the law’ and no one would prosecute them for falsifying this document. Instead, they fought over whose jurisdiction it was; the County within which the house was located, or the County where the closing occured.  If sellers of real property can misrepresent the true condition of their property in this required document without penalty, then it is not worth the paper it is written on, and it does NOT protect the consumer.
At the time I bought this house; home inspectors were able to hide behind strongly worded contracts that severely limited their inspections; contain Hold Harmless and Limit of Liability clauses.  After being named in the lawsuit my home inspector stated that because it was drizzling he was precluded from going on the roof to inspect it, in contradiction of his findings at the time, that the roof had 5-8 years remaining in its lifespan.  It would seem logical to me that if the weather precluded a thorough inspection from being completed, then the inspection should have been rescheduled & a report should not have been written. I based my final decision on whether or not to purchase this home upon his conclusions & findings. I know that I am among the majority of people who put their trust and faith into these inspection reports. If the home inspector had discovered the problems with this house as I feel he should have, after all that is what I was paying him to do, I would never have bought this house. How is the consumer protected in NYS when, after being encouraged to rely upon their opinions, home inspectors are not regulated, or held accountable for the information or lack thereof contained in their reports? I know that NYS now over sees Home Inspectors & I would like to think that my fight had something to do with that change.
In June of 2005, desperate for help and frustrated by my lawyers’ abandonment of me as a client, I wrote a letter detailing what was happening to me in what turned out to be a futile attempt for government intervention. I sent this letter to the Mayor, then Governor Pataki’s office; to 12 Legislators in Rensselaer County, to Senator’s Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Hugh T. Farley, Neil Breslin, and Joseph Bruno. I received a response from Sen. Schumer’s office thanking me for my interest in anti-environmental (pollution) legislation, a topic that had nothing to do with my letter. The only other responses came from 2 of the 12 legislators who were very sorry to hear of my plight, but could do nothing to help me.
 
I sent my letter to the Center for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Hudson Valley Poison Control. The CDC & EPA responded that because they are a Federal Agency they couldn’t help me and told me to contact my local Dept of Health. The irony being that I had already been in contact with both State and Local divisions of the D.O.H, with no relief. I sent my letter to numerous people and divisions at the NYS Banking Association and the NYS Board of Realtors. The majority of these letters were ignored, but a select few did respond to tell me they could do nothing for me. I sent letters to multiple areas within the Dept. of State; the Dept. of Insurance; AND the Dept of Health anyway, to no avail. When I originally contacted the Dept of Health for help, both State and Local divisions told me that they wouldn’t get involved in my dilemma as NYS does not have Mold standards and mine is not a landlord/tenant dispute. These representatives told me that professionals who investigate Toxic Mold exist to scare the public, that Toxic Mold doesn’t really make you sick, and there is no need to abandon your possessions unless they got wet. When I offered to send pictures of my peeling face & eye lids caused by the Mold and medical documentation of all my other symptoms, it was declined quickly. When advised that my furniture did in fact get wet as the water poured down the walls & floor of the 2nd story into the contents of the 1st story, and water in the 2nd story saturated carpeting and furniture there, I was wished good luck and they couldn’t get off the phone quickly enough.
 
I sent letters to the Consumer Frauds, and Consumer Protection Bureau at then, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office. Both agencies responded that because the sale of the home is considered a ‘private sale’ and did not involve a corporation, they would not get involved. The Consumer Protection Bureau recommended that I pursue a claim against the sellers through small claims court, where the limit for recovery is 3 to 5,000.00 dollars; depending upon the venue. The ridiculousness of this being that it had cost me more than either amount to attempt to repair the roof, and obviously neither amount even begins to come close to what it would have cost me to fully repair the home.  
 
I learned in October 2005 that the residents of Magill Ave were petitioning to have the house condemned and torn down. They were fearful that the Mold from my house might make them and their children sick.   The Town of Brunswick refused to get involved, although they admitted that there was no building permit issued to add the dormers to the original structure, and stated that they were not aware of this addition until the year 2000. They admitted they did nothing when they discovered the altered condition of this house. However, if my neighbors were so concerned that the wind was blowing the poison from my home to theirs, you would think they would have attempted to help me in a constructive manner vs attempting to thwart my efforts to get someone to repair the house & remediate the mold. The roof was already covered w/ a blue tarp due to my inability to pay the additional 25-35K to complete repairing it. The bank holding the mortgage sent an appraiser out to the house after I’d abandoned it & this person tore the screen door off & broke the lock to get inside. The police refused to arrest this person for breaking & entering because they didn’t steal anything that I could tell them about. I couldn’t tell what if anything was stolen due to my refusal to re-enter the home, after the physical condition it had left me in. This person just threw the screen door to the side of the property & made no attempt to secure the premises.   So…. using Yellow “Caution – Do Not Enter” & bright red w/silver reflective “Danger” & “Hazard” tape I covered the exterior of the house. I mean due to the toxic conditions inside, I had a duty to the public to warn them against entering.  Didn’t I?

It’s the opinion of the roofers and engineers I hired that the dormers were constructed improperly as no step flashing was used when they were built, & that this lack of step flashing is the cause of all the problems with this house. They further opine that the dormers & roof were leaking since the dormers were added; 14 years prior to my purchase. They all shared in my opinion that the people who sold me this house were in fact aware of its condition prior to selling it to me.  I’m aware that they knew the roof and dormers were leaking as one of the residents of Magill Ave., witnessed the sellers of the home and a relative of theirs attempting to fix the roof & dormers less than a year before I bought the house. The sellers left roofing felt and products used to treat Mold in the cellar of the house when they moved out. Ironically enough, the sellers moved out/abandoned the house four months prior to our closing. They moved in with their father, the same person who represented them in the sale of the home to me.  

So that’s it for part 2.  Thanx for reading & please feel free to leave comments; ask questions & subscribe.

My Toxic Mold Nightmare part 1

April 24, 2010
The majority of my friends know I went through a nightmare; but not many know the details of the battles I fought or the crimes I was a victim of. 
On February 12th of 2004 as a single Mom, I purchased my first home. The property is located on Magill Ave. in the Town of Brunswick in NYS. In August of 2004, as the remnants of Hurricanes Frances, Ivan, and Jean arrived in New York State; I became aware of the fact that the house was leaking from the 2nd story, into the 1st story. I investigated to determine the source of the leak and found what I can only describe as a 15” in diameter ‘water balloon’ in the fresh paint of a 2nd story wall & about 1/2 an inch of standing water in a 3 foot radius of my brand new carpeting!  The day after closing on this house I’d gone there to start cleaning and painting my new home, and saw this same wall had extensive water damage. I had been unable to see the water damage when I initially looked at the home as the sellers had stacked furniture in front of it, thereby concealing the damage. They put a dresser and desk next to each other, with another dresser placed on top of them in front of this wall. Naturally being a woman, I was judgmental of the then owners, as there was no way to use the desk & you’d have to be over 6 feet tall to use the drawers of the dresser. I berated myself at the time for being judgmental….. had I only known.  When I did finally see what all that furniture was hiding I assumed, due to the structural inspection completed prior to purchase that had no indications of any existing water problems in the home; that the sellers had fixed whatever had caused the water damage but did not cosmetically repair the wall due to all the furniture in front of it & attributed the lack of repair to sheer laziness. As I searched for the source of the leak I noticed a black growth on an upstairs hallway wall and I had no idea what that was. I repeatedly wiped it away thinking it was dirt from one of the kids, but it kept coming back in the same exact spot.
I filed a claim with my homeowner’s insurance company, and began calling roofers to obtain estimates for repairing the leaks. All State promptly denied coverage for the cost of repairing the roof, dormers and the contents of the home as the cause of the leaks and problems with the roof and dormers were deemed to be a pre-existing condition. There were exclusions in the policy contract specific to damage caused by Mold and mildew that they cited in their denial letter. In September of 2004, after receiving this denial, I retained attorneys to file a lawsuit on my behalf against the sellers; their agent who also happens to be their father/father in law; his employing broker; and the home inspector for the cost of replacing the roof.
Every company that looked at the roof told me that the entire roof needed to be replaced (my home inspection report indicated 5 to 8 years were left before the roof would need replacing) and that the black growth on the wall was mold caused by the leaks. I contacted mold remediation companies to get estimates to repair that problem. One of these companies turned out to be Engineers who came to the house and diagnosed the Mold growing on the walls. Their report indicated I had multiple types of Mold inside the house, including Stacchybotris and Aspergillus, and informed me that these Molds were Toxic. Stacchybotris is the most toxic of all the Toxic Molds; its spores are airborne and poisonous. When told that this Mold causes allergies, chronic asthma, and other serious health problems, I immediately made the decision to send my then 13-year-old daughter, who was an athlete, to live with har father.  Obviously I did not want to expose her to these poisons any more than she already had been by that time. My daughter competed in Track and Field events, holds numerous records and medals, including a silver medal in discus that she won in 2002 at the Junior Olympics. Stacchybotris is referred to as the “silent killer”. The documentation regarding fatalities and serious illnesses directly related to exposure to this Toxic Mold is extensive. I have learned that there are no Federal or State Mold Standards, and I fail to comprehend why there aren’t any considering how detrimental the mycotoxins produced by any of these Molds are.
In October of 2004, the roofer I’d hired began repairing the roof. They found extensive structural damage to the rafters, and support beams. The dormers and roof decking were almost completely deteriorated from years of water intrusion. The original estimate to replace the roof was $7,250.00. When all of this additional damage was discovered, I had already paid them $7,000.00. They estimated it would cost an additional $25,000.00 to $35,000.00 to finish the roof replacement. The ‘Mold’ engineers came back out to the house to inspect all of the additional damage uncovered by the roofers. They estimated that it would cost over $85,000.00 to repair the roof, dormers, support beams, the entire 2nd story, and remove the mold. This estimate was conditional on there not being any Mold, rot, or decay in the 1st story, which couldn’t be determined until after the roof decking & subfloors had been removed.
As the months passed while my attorneys attempted settlement with the insurance carriers for the home inspector and the sellers’ real estate agency I learned more about the Toxic Molds that were present in my home. I realized that the Mold in the house was poisoning me. I lost over half of my hair, suffer from itchy and irritated skin, scaling of the face due to fungal infections, diarrhea, fatigue, extreme dry skin, severe headaches, burning sinuses, a constantly runny nose, memory loss, sneezing, coughing, swollen red eyes, peeling eye lids, feelings of tightness in my chest, loss of breath, frequent bloody noses, forgetfulness, and abdominal cramps. Once I learned that all of my ailments were symptoms of Mold Poisoning and permanent conditions, I was forced to abandon the house and all my possessions and become homeless to escape being poisoned to death.
In March 2005 I had the Mold engineers return to the house. The insurance company for the home inspector was requiring proof that the Toxic Molds had contaminated my possessions, and that the spores were actually airborne. They randomly tested the contents in addition to the ceiling of the 1st story, and confirmed that the Toxic Molds had contaminated my furniture; that the Molds, wood rot and decay were present in the 1st story in addition to the 2nd. The engineers’ new recommendation was to gut the house and rebuild it citing that the contamination in my home was the worst case he’d seen in his career. In April of 2005 I hired air quality experts to go to the house for indoor air testing. The engineer who performed this testing, advised me that the house had “massive quantities of airborne Stacchybotris spores”; the worst case he’d seen in 10 years. He also recommended gutting the home.

In June of 2005, my attorneys advised me that they did not believe I could successfully continue to pursue civil remedy, citing the following reasons:

1. The language of the contract from the Home Inspector contains Hold Harmless Clauses and Limits Liability to the amount that the inspector was paid to perform the inspection. His insurance carrier, A.I.G., denied liability and even cited Mold exclusions that existed in their policy.

2. Despite the agent for the sellers being a blood relation, I had no physical proof that he was actually aware of the true condition of the house. Without having proof that he knew his son & daughter in law were lying on the disclosure statement and concealing damage (or helping to conceal damage) that indicated the problems with the home, I had no civil recourse against him, his employing broker or that agency. Additionally, the agency was operating without any liability insurance.

3. While having proof that the sellers themselves were aware of the problems, it was the opinion of my attorneys that they had no liquid assets and while they believed I would win my case against them, I would never actually be able to recover any damages.

4. The statute of limitations had already expired with regard to the prior owner who had built the dormers improperly, and he could not even be named in the suit.

5. All of my legal fees were my own responsibility, as this type of litigation is not accepted on a contingency basis. My attorneys estimated $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 in legal fees incurred over 4-6 years and felt I would be throwing good money after bad. They recommended that I abandon the lawsuit and file bankruptcy.

So that’s it for part 1.  Part 2 will be posted in the near future. Part 2 will be about the Fights. Pictures of the house are posted in my Facebook photo album.  You’ll find out why it looks the way it does in part 2.

Thanx for reading.  If you have any questions please ask. Also please feel free to leave a comment &/or subscribe.