October 1, 2009
by Cathy Woodruff
A crew of tenants and former tenants of Tollgate Apartments have a not-so-fond nickname for the old brick building on New Scotland Road in Slingerlands.
They call it “Moldgate.”
Only months ago, they were strangers who were drawn by the promise of upscale living at the newly rehabbed 21-unit historic structure, with its wood floors and high ceilings. They paid rents ranging from $1,000 to $1,600 a month, not including utilities, and say they were assured that amenities such as a washer and dryer and upgrades including a paved parking lot were soon on the way.
Now, they’re a friendly bunch of close to a dozen folks brought together through a campaign to persuade their landlord to address a long list of complaints, topped by persistent respiratory symptoms that their doctors attributed to exposure to mold.
Lou Parisi, who lived in a $1,600-a-month unit from January through August before breaking his lease and moving out because of illness, laughs when he recalls how landlady Elsa Feigenbaum touted the community-like atmosphere for the tenants.
“‘This is going to be like an Italian villa.’ That’s what she told us,” he said.
In fact, many of the tenants and former tenants now are friends, Parisi said, but not because they felt like neighbors in a villa.
“One of our biggest complaints is she portrayed it as being very upscale,” said Lou Parisi, His attorney now is working to get his security deposit returned.
Sadly, there seems to be little more the residents can do at this point, aside from the usual avenues available to aggrieved tenants.
They can move out, fight legally to recover their rent deposits, perhaps seek reimbursement for belongings damaged by mold in a basement storage area and resist any efforts to hold them responsible for future rent payments under their broken leases.
They also can complain to the state attorney general’s consumer affairs staff, which some have done.
But, at least for now, there are no state or local laws or public health regulations to trigger any enforcement action because of the mold, and Bethlehem building officials say conditions at Tollgate Apartments do not violate town building codes.
Linda Aron, who lived at Tollgate from November through August, led a charge to get the building examined by the Albany County Health Department and had hoped to see the moldy conditions resolved so she and others could stay.
The Health Department’s inspection report, provided by the county after I sent a request under the state Freedom of Information Law, confirms mold at Tollgate Apartments and recommends a number of measures to address the problem.
The recommendations include:
Seal one portion of the basement with a vapor barrier, install a properly-sized basement dehumidifier and install a properly-sized exhaust fan
Place a dehumidifier in each first-floor apartment
Replace a broken pipe that leads from the building to a dry well
Contract with an engineer to determine whether dry wells are adequately sized
The county also found a violation of state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations when a member of Feigenbaum’s staff sprayed fungicide in the basement twice in early August. Such work must be done by a certified pesticide applicator, according to county health officials.
I tried to reach Feigenbaum at the office of her company, Quality City Homes, and on her cell phone and left messages on Wednesday but did not hear back. An assistant in her office said she could have been out of cell range.
The county Health Department’s authority is limited to making inspections and offering recommendations to improve moldy conditions, said county spokeswoman Mary Duryea.
“There is no public health law with regard to mold, so we don’t have any enforcement capability,” she said. “We just respond to complaints as much as we can.”
It probably comes too late for the recent tenants of Tollgate, but there is a glimmer of hope for the future.
A state Toxic Mold Task Force made up of experts and officials from the state Health Department and other agencies is at work on recommendations that are expected to be completed in time for the next legislative session, said spokesmen for the Health Department and Department of State.
The task force is charged “to establish a comprehensive scientific study of toxic mold and assess the feasibility of further action by the Legislature or state agencies,” said Health Department spokesman Tom Allocco.
From the Advocate’s chair, it sounds like public health regulations already are overdue, and I encourage action to protect New Yorkers from mold hazards. At Tollgate, residents have suffered from asthma, headaches, sore throats, coughs and other serious symptoms that their doctors attributed to mold exposure.
One resident, Robin Matthias, said she would move out if only she could afford the moving costs so soon after moving in on June 1.
That makes it crucial for Feigenbaum to take the concerns of her tenants more seriously. With proper maintenance and attention to the mold problem, she really could have a fine, sneeze-free apartment complex to offer prospective tenants.
She has plenty of units available.
Note – Information on Riverstone Residential knowingly exposing tenants to extreme amounts of mold toxins at Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. katy