Repair of water damage/possible mold

flightfulbirdOctober 7, 2007

Last Thursday night we noticed a discoloration near an edge of the kitchen ceiling/wall - looked like a water spot but when I climbed up and felt the ceiling and wall there was no dampness and the spot didn't depress or give way at all. We have a townhouse and that area of the kitchen ceiling is right below one of the 2nd floor bathrooms (specifically, right underneath the toilet). There has been no overflow or apparent water leakage in that bath for as long as we've lived here (since July 2006) - we rarely use it and have never used the tub/shower - I use a swiffer Wetjet for the floor so no spilled bucket of water - you get the idea. These apartments are still fairly new (to me) - they were completed just over three years ago.

Maintenance and the apartment manager came over on Friday morning - removed the toilet and replaced a wax seal so they could be sure it was intact and there was no leakage. They replaced the toilet, checked for moisture on that upstairs wall and found none. They then made arrangements with an outside vendor to remove and replace the damaged drywall in the kitchen and that company came in later Friday morning.

The drywall vendor tested all around the water-spotted area and then his team marked and cut the ceiling to remove all of the section of drywall that they "tested" to be retaining moisture (even though it didn't feel damp). When they removed just a couple feet of drywall they discovered a wet, darkly stained beam directly above the water spot. It looked like a black mossy substance. Apparently they assumed it was a toxic variety of mold - they immediately discontinued their demolition of the drywall, sealed the area with superglue and heavy plastic, and called the manager.

The manager had given us the option of remaining in our apartment while the repairs were being done, which we initially wanted to do when we thought it was just drywall replacement and wouldn't take long. However, after the phone call from the drywall vendor, she called me back and said the repairs "were going to take longer than they had thought and they didn't want to inconvenience us for that long" and that she had made arrangements for us at a hotel and that we should plan to check in immediately - which was nice, but on the other hand it sounded like they wanted us out right away. She said they wanted to complete the repairs as quickly as possible. She said it was fine to run in and pick up something we forgot (the apartment is like one minute from the hotel), just didn't want us living there and in the way for/or inconvenienced by the repairs. The drywall vendor returned while I was packing and took many pictures of the area and told me he had to properly document that he had sealed the area off and when that was done.

We checked into the hotel on Friday afternoon - returned to the apartment a couple of times on the weekend to grab a couple more items we forgot (in and out in less than five minutes) - found no workers there on either Saturday or Sunday - so we guess they are planning to resume work on Monday, which seems strange since she said they wanted to get it done as soon as possible and more so because whatever was leaking still is, unless the wax seal had just given way and replacing it solved the problem. These apartments are only three years old, as well.

So - apparently they think this dark spot is toxic mold, hence the reason for the sealing off of the hole in the ceiling and going no further with the work in process . . .and also moving us out so quickly after previously giving us the option of staying as long as we could handle the noise or whatever. We appreciate their concern for our safety and understand this isn't something to take chances with - but they haven't told us anything definite, we are just sorting it out from what has taken place so far.

I looked online and I understand it involves discovering which type of mold it is and eradicating it, as well as finding out the source of the moisture that the mold was feeding on and repairing it - then drying everything out - before new drywall can be installed and paint can be done. The manager had said we would be in the hotel until Tuesday - it sounds like it will take way longer than two days. We aren't complaining about them not spending their weekend working and we understand it has to be treated as toxic mold until it's found otherwise, just trying to sort out what will happen from this point on. How can we find out what sort of mold it is - will the drywall company bring in an outside test agent or do we take their word for it? The complex is paying for the hotel and we are very grateful for this - but is there anything else we have rights to if we can't move back in for an extended time, or at all? Will they check the rest of the apartment while they are there to see if there is moisture in the walls anywhere else?

The drywall guy said they would have to "completely seal off the kitchen" and that they would be changing into their protective suits inside the barrier, doing their work, and then removing the suits before coming back out into the apartment. I am sure they will be careful not to spread the spores around. I read of instances where everything in the apartment has to be trashed - it seems like in our case, once the hole was sealed off, they would've said to move our stuff out on the weekend to protect it just in case, if they thought that might happen during their cleanup. The manager said they were responsible for our belongings while their contractor was going in and out and working - I assumed for theft or damage, does that also include mold damage if it happens?

This is our first experience with anything like this - I'm sorry for the long post and really appreciate any information you can give us !

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Check in the *Home Disasters Forum* here. There has been talk about mold problems there.

I am assuming it is info about mold you are after as you have not had any problems with the workmen or manager (yet).

Check your renters insurance policy to see what is says about mold. Sometimes there are exclusions.

Take your own pictures of work in progress! Do not rely on the building owners or contractors to 'do the right thing."

I would consult a lawyer right away. Some do free initial consultations. You have a right to inhabit the apartment you are paying for. If you are being barred from its use due to construction or contamination, I do believe you can invalidate your lease. You can't raise a family in a one room hotel cubicle. I don't know why you are saying that you "are grateful" that they are putting you up in a hotel. That is the least they are obligated to do while they bar you from your home.

BTW, make sure the hotel bill is in their name and not yours. If the bill is not paid the hotel will come after YOU. Even if the room is under their name the hotel may still try to come after you if the bill goes unpaid. You probably still had to show ID when you took the room. Right? (Happened to a friend of mine.)

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 2:50AM
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Yes bud, so far the manager and vendors have been great - like you said, they should be, and putting us up is the least we would expect if we can't live in our home (but we're still grateful).

I talked with the service manager this morning - it was close to 10am with still no sign of activity in the apartment. He said the "remediation" would be today, that they had planned on Friday to get the "team" in on Monday to get started. He said they would tear everything out and get it dried out - that they assume it's toxic mold until proven otherwise and no matter what kind it is they just want to "get it the hell out of there" - that it would take 48 hours to dry out afterward (most likely) and then they would install new drywall and paint. He is thinking we should be back in on Wednesday - that sounds soon for everything they have to do. It definitely sounds like they are taking all the precautions for the toxic varieties of mold, though, which is good.

The service manager also confirmed we can come and go as we please, that it's our apartment - I told him we would be in and out for sure. We would probably be fine sleeping upstairs there, but actually we would really rather be just around the corner at the hotel right now anyway since we can't use the kitchen at all (even if there was no mold danger) - it's just nicer being able to grab a drink or snack when we want and also to have somewhere to go away from the work and noise. Everything we need is here, actually, for the two of us - and most of what we want (complimentary high-speed wireless internet for one thing) - it's a new hotel and they gave us a suite and not just a room, so we're actually fine.

Thanks for the information on the hotel - it is in the complex's name, although I did show the front desk agent an ID (it wasn't copied, just for verification that it was the proper person showing up to claim the room, seemed like). They won't even extend the reservation without a phone call from the apartment manager since the complex is paying for it (I checked if there was availability the rest of the week if the work ran longer than expected). It sounds like they have harbored other residents of our apartment complex in the past under similar circumstances. . .perhaps.

One more thing - should we get something in writing from them once they say it is ok to move back in, stating what they found and what they did and that they declare it "safe" or whatever?

Thanks very much for your reply - any more thoughts?

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 2:14PM
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So, so far you do not know if it is deadly toxic mold. (Let's hope not.) They are taking extreme precautions. That is good.

Just to be on the safe side I would contact the building inspector in your area to see what the proceedure is about habibility of mold contaminated buildings. There may need to be a city inspection.

I would get something in writing from the landlord that the place is deemed safe. Mold is difficult to eradicate. It could come back. If your whole family should possibley develop asthma or something down the road, you don't want to find out that the landlord "does not remember" doing any mold removal repairs in the place.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 2:41PM
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flightfulbird, you sound like a really nice tenant to have ;)

I disagree about getting a lawyer, because I can guarantee your landlord is probably pretty freaked out by this whole mess, too. It's not something they're happy about, either.

I do agree with bud's post of 14:41. You have the right to know what's going on in your unit, and what inspections state, what has been discovered and what's been done about it, etc. and you do need to feel at ease from a health stand point. I would make sure there are follow up inspections in the future so it's monitored.

Actually, the complex sounds quite cooperative and it appears they are doing everything possible at this juncture to meet their obligations and make sure you are comfortable. If you are the least uneasy about moving back in, perhaps you can approach them about another unit? Clearly for now they are doing their best to get this situation addressed, they have a lot at stake as well and this is costing them a lot of $$. As far as the delay, I have learned that whatever the 'estimated' time is for a project, whether do it yourself or contracted out, for a realistic time frame triple that estimate. Even if a job is critical and they are hustling to get it done, it just seems to be par for the course when it comes to repairs/remodeling, etc. that things get more involved that initially expected. Very much a domino effect. So it's very difficult to to stand and say precisely how many days it will take because inevitably when things are taken apart something else is found. I'm not saying mold, it could be anything. Happens all the time to us, even on the most minor of repairs. We've come to expect that with both rentals and our own home.

It sounds like both you and your landlord are competent, intelligent, reasonable people and there is no hysteria involved, so hopefully (probably) this will end up with a resolution amicable to all involved ;)

    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 9:18AM
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Thanks moonshadow, and bud. . .

I went by around noon yesterday, just to run in and pick up some beach towels quickly, and there was alot of activity - the kitchen was completely sealed off with heavy plastic sheeting, floor to ceiling, even taped securely to the floor, with a zipper entry (it was zipped up at the time - and I saw no vendors but heard alot of activity from behind the sheeting). A tube, maybe a foot and a half across, made of the same heavy sheeting, was running from the sealed-off area out through the sliding glass door - venting whatever it was to the outside (most likely through a filter first). I had read online about the need for negative pressure environments in cases of toxic mold and the sheeting was definitely being drawn in toward the area, so that was good. Also they had unloaded the cabinets that were directly beneath the hole in the ceiling and brought the contents into the living room - meaning maybe they took out that whole bank of cabinets to look behind the drywall there as well. I took some pictures and left.

Around 4pm I checked back - the vendor's truck was gone and I wanted to be sure everything was locked up (also a bit curious for sure) - this time the vent tube was gone, the whole area was still completely sealed up, and now there were motors running from behind the sheeting (dehumidifier or fans or both). Even the electric cord, which was running through a really small hole in the sheeting, was surrounded by tape, and the small hole was also surrounded by tape. I said all of this to indicate it does seem like they are being super careful. I took more pictures and will go by again this morning (Tuesday) to see what's up.

I appreciate your replies and I agree that at this point the complex does seem to be doing everything right. I know they are concerned about long-term damage and making sure everything is ok for the future - it's their investment and who knows where we will be in a year - but they are absolutely taking good care of us with all of this and I really don't think they could've handled it any nicer than they have (so far).

I will be really curious to know what they found - do they always test in cases like this or just assume the worst and take all the precautions and that way they are covered for sure? I need to read about air testing or whatever but it seems reasonable to expect that if it was repaired under those negative pressure/sealed conditions and if we (as the residents) didn't uncover the sealed area or stir anything up over the weekend before they started work on Monday (we had moved out on Friday afternoon) - - everything else inside should be ok, right? We did consider asking about another unit - our complex has a program where you can change to another apartment with no penalty - we will see what happens over the next several days. And, we will see how everything shakes out with the whole situation before involving anyone who isn't already involved.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 1:21PM
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