by Terry Rogers
Loleta Belfast knew something wasn’t right with her apartment in Brightway Commons. The apartment management company had already moved her from one building to another after the panel of her HVAC unit was removed and they found significant mold. However, even in the new apartment, Belfast was constantly sick and her doctor suspected there was mold in the second apartment as well.
“I called the City of Milford and their building inspector came out,” Belfast said. “He told me he could not say it was mold unless it was tested. I paid $275 to hire Mold Busters, an independent company, to test what I felt was mold and their report came back that I was correct.”
According to the report provided to Belfast from Mold Busters, the inspector found excessive moisture around the toilet that may indicate a failed seal, visible mold on the hot water heater supply lines, visible and lab-confirmed mold on the HVAC unit and high moisture readings at both the front and rear windows. The report indicated that there was a heavy amount of mold classified as Cladosporium species.
“Cladosporium species is the most commonly identified outdoor fungus,” the report read. “It is a common allergen. It can cause mycosis. It is a common cause of extrinsic asthma. Acute symptoms include edema and bronchospasm. Chronic cases may develop pulmonary emphysema.”
Belfast reached out to the regional manager of the complex who reviewed the reports. According to Belfast, the manager asked if there was a place she could go and Belfast informed her that she had no money to pay for hotels. Brightway Commons then agreed to put Belfast in a hotel in order for the mold to be remediated. The same day, Belfast applied for an apartment at Silver Lake and was accepted. She moved to the new location soon after.
“I had to leave my bedroom and living room furniture behind because they were filled with mold spores,” Belfast said. “There has been no offer to reimburse me for the furniture or for the mold report I paid for on my own. When you turn on the heat in those buildings, you could smell the mold and when the air conditioning was on, it was even worse. I have a letter from my doctor telling me that I needed to vacate the apartment due to the mold. Not once did I see an inspector in my apartment even though I thought there was a rental inspection program.”
According to the City of Milford website, City Council adopted an ordinance requiring the inspection of all residential rental properties in the City. Starting in 2018, all residential rental units were to be inspected over a two-year period. Units in Sussex County were inspected in 2018 and the Kent County inspections began in 2019. The website lists them as “in progress.” After those are completed, the City will conduct annual inspections starting with Ward 1 in 2020 on a rotating basis with inspectors completing inspections by Ward each year. Brightway Commons is located in Ward 4.
“Rental properties that have been inspected for compliance with HUD or USDA Rural Development Housing Voucher programs need only submit the most current HUD/USDA inspection report in lieu of the City’s inspection,” the website reads. City Manager Mark Whitfield was not sure whether the contractor hired to complete the rental inspections conducted the review of Brightway Commons or if the management company for the complex provided a HUD/USDA report in compliance with the rental inspection ordinance.
Buildings in Brightway Commons were renovated about 10 or 11 years ago, Belfast explained. However, many residents complained of water damage after the remodel. Apartments had drywall damage and, when the drywall was removed for replacement, mold was discovered behind it. According to Belfast, the mold was simply sprayed, and the drywall replaced. HVAC units were sprayed for mold but not the piping. When contacted about the Belfast’s complaints, Volunteers of America, the management company that operates the complex simply released a statement.
“We were alerted by a former resident to the presence of mold in an apartment at Brightway Commons,” David M. Burch, Senior Director of Communications for Volunteers of America, said. “Upon inspection, the mold was found to originate from an HVAC unit in the apartment and was identified as nontoxic. On October 5, a professional cleaning service came to remediate the apartment and the city has completed a subsequent inspection. To our knowledge, the mold was restricted to this one unit. The health and safety of our residents is and will continue to be our number one priority. While we are not aware of any threats to resident health, if those conditions change, we will act accordingly. No residents have been required to move from the site.”
Belfast is not sure what her next steps will be. Currently, she is in a safe location without mold, but she wants the management company to address the mold issues at Brightway Commons for the safety of the residents.
“They are not correcting the problem, they are just treating the mold,” Belfast said. “The report I received clearly states that the mold found in my apartment was toxic and could lead to permanent lung damage. They did offer to put me up in a hotel, but I was able to find another place to live before that happened. I just want them to deal with the problem once and for all.”