Lisa Crane, Reporting
Lynne Jones, Producer
Jamey Bryan, Photographer/Editor
May 30, 2009
A Trussville family ousted from their home because of a mold problem has resolved their case with the Federal Government.
Leslieanne Johannsen, her husband and two young children had to move out of their townhome on New Year’s Day when they discovered a roof leak in the adjoining unit had caused mold to spread like wildfire into their walls, floors as well as the heating and cooling vents.
That adjoining unit had become the property of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development after the home went into foreclosure in the fall of 2008.
Local contractors had been handling the situation for HUD. But the Johannsens were not able to get a satisfactory response.
Once NBC13HD became involved, officials from the Birmingham HUD office took made their first visit to the home to get a first-hand look at the damage.
The Johannsens have now settled with the government.
HUD is paying for the mold removal, the rebuild, and reimbursed them for six months of mortgage and utility payments they had to make when they couldn’t live in their home.
But the Johannsens believe HUD got off easy. “It was very bittersweet. The only reason we accepted their offer is because we wanted to get on with our lives. We’ve suffered enough, my children have suffered enough. Just no more phone calls, emails no more fighting with them or arguing with them. It was not what we were looking for, we’re pretty disappointed actually. But it was either that or take them to court. And no one wants to do that,“ said Leslieanne Johannsen.
The family said getting HUD to accept responsibility took too long.
The Johannsens said the problem could’ve been corrected within a month or so, which also would have lessened the severity of the mold infestation.
In an e-mail HUD told NBC13HD, “The various aspects of work required to this unit i.e., the need for specialized professionals, contract and regulatory requirements and coordination of activity among the many parties, contributed to the delay. The process took longer than we would have liked, but it was necessary to bring about quality results.“
Leslieanne Johannsen says the rebuild work should begin any day and they hope to be able to move back into their home in a month or so.
How it all started – Video – Mold drives Trussville family from home
Lisa Crane, Reporting
Lynne Jones, Producer
Jamey Bryan, Photographer/Editor
April 30, 2009
Imagine being displaced from your home for six months…all because of a mold problem at the neighbor’s house next door. You’d probably want some kind of compensation…but now imagine that neighbor is the federal government. That’s the situation a Trussville family is dealing with right now and they say they’ve spent months trying to get it resolved.
Leslieanne Johannsen shows us pictures of what looks like blue cheese growing in her attic and walls. “All of that is mold along that. All that white is mold”, says Johannsen. Johannsen and her husband had to become quick studies back on New Year’s Day when they discovered mold had infested their Trussville townhome. “It was in the ventilation system and it was spreading by the second to every room in the house”, says Travis Johannsen. And mold isn’t just an ugly annoyance…it’s a serious health threat. Fact: According to the EPA, molds can trigger allergic reactions, asthma attacks and some can even produce potent toxins and irritants.
The Johannsens say the problem started when a roof leak in the adjacent, vacant townhome went un-repaired for weeks. Because the two units have a common wall, cleanup crews said they couldn’t clean up the mold until the roof was repaired. Leslieanne says, “If we remediate our side and they don’t take care of the wall on their side and we rebuild, it can come right back over.”
Fact: The Environmental Protection Agency agrees. According to it’s website the key to dealing with mold is moisture control. But the Johannsens say that’s when the real problems started. The adjacent townhome is owned by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD contracts with real estate management company Hooks Van Holm out of Atlanta to take care of it. Hooks Van Holm has subcontracted the work out to the company, Asset Management Specialists, in Chelsea.
“We’ve pretty much exhausted every avenue of trying to get this problem taking care of with HUD and Hooks Van Holmes and Asset Management.”, Leslieanne says. We contacted Asset Management Specialists. Officials there wouldn’t comment on this case, and instead referred us to Hooks Van Holm officials who have not returned our repeated calls. Johannsen says no one seemed to want to take responsibility. She says even with water pouring into the HUD unit, Asset Management crews wouldn’t even acknowledge there was a leak. “Just the frustration of everyone covering their own bases and no one taking responsibility”, says Leslieanne.
And when dealing with mold, time is of the essence. Fact: the EPA says it’s important to dry water-damaged areas within 48 hours to prevent mold growth. But when Johannsen called us in mid-February, the family had been out of their home for 6 weeks, and were getting nowhere with repeated calls to HUD and the companies involved. She credits our calls to HUD with finally getting the ball rolling. “Within a day actually (of calling you) they came up with a settlement offer.”
The Johannsens say HUD then fixed the leaking roof in their unit and paid about $5000 to clean up the mold that had taken over the walls, ceilings, floors and vents in the Johannsen’s home. HUD officials wouldn’t talk with us on camera but in an e-mail told me, “The various aspects of work required to this unit i.e. the need for specialized professionals, contract and regulatory requirements and coordination of activity among the many parties, contributed to the delay. The process took longer than we would have liked, but it was necessary to bring about quality results.“
We went back to visit the Johannsens 6 weeks later. The mold had been removed and the house had been deemed safe to live in, but there was a lot of work left to do. The house still needed to be pretty much rebuilt. Many of the ceilings, walls and carpeting had been ripped out because they were full of mold. But the family says they’re fighting it out with HUD again. According to Leslieanne, while government officials have agreed to pay for much of the $15,000 it’s estimated to cost to rebuild, they won’t compensate the family for being homeless for what will likely end up being at least 6 months. That’s something she says would not have been necessary had HUD taken action sooner. “They knew about mold and they didn’t do anything with it they just left it and let it go.”
HUD’s response: “HUD has been very responsive to the situation, relocating the family and addressing the required repairs to the unit. HUD’s Atlanta homeownership center has maintained contact with the Johannsens and has apprised them of each step of the process.“
Johannsen says that’s simply not true. In fact they’ve been living in a friend’s home since the first of the year and HUD had nothing to do with those arrangements. Leslieanne says, It’s been an emotional roller coaster, my 4 1/2 year old daughter was on the floor crying yesterday. They don’t understand they want to come home and it’s hard to explain to them that it’s not safe here.”
Again we tried several times to contact representatives from Hooks Van Holm and Asset Management Specialists but were not able to get either company to give us their side of this story. The Johannsens now have an attorney and have not yet decided whether to take HUD’s settlement offer.