Mold issues become personal in tenant-landlord squabble

For Morgan and Jesse Davis it is a story they say did not have a good resolution. The young couple insist they have been encountering a problem with mold in their apartment on Stonewall Avenue in Fayetteville for four months and have health concerns for their 6-month-old daughter.

Their landlord tells a different story, saying the substance looked more like mildew and that the couple might have been using their claims of mold as a reason to break the lease.

Twenty-year-old Morgan said she and 21-year-old Jesse and their 6-month-old daughter Caroline moved into the apartment on Stonewall Avenue in December. Prior to that time Morgan did a walk-through at the apartment in mid-November. It was then that she noticed what appeared to be black mold on one of the ceiling tiles over the bathtub. Morgan said she was told by the landlord that the tile and the other repair items on the list would be handled prior to their moving in.

Morgan said the work to mitigate the mold was not done when they moved in so she subsequently removed the ceiling tile and cleaned it with bleach, something she later learned does little good. Once she began looking around the apartment Morgan said she found the black substance on the wood framing surrounding the windows in others room and on the “visibly black” seal around the entry door to the apartment.

Jesse and Morgan said they sent a total of four letters to the landlord pertaining to the issue, adding that at one point they were told the issue with the ceiling tile looked like mildew and water stains. Morgan said the landlord also came to the apartment in response to her concerns.

Jesse purchased mold test kits from Lowe’s and said the substance tested positive for mold. The test results were photographed and a video was made of the tub and ceiling area.

Morgan said she called the Fayette County Health Department and was told the department had no jurisdiction in place to address the problem, a position echoed recently by Rick Fehr at Fayette Environmental Health.

Then she called the state branch of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, saying she was told that if she had a problem and to “leave the apartment and contact a lawyer.”

The main concern expressed by Jesse and Morgan dealt with what they said were health issues relating to 6-month-old Caroline.

Prior to moving into the apartment, “Caroline had nothing wrong except for one time she was constipated for several days,” Morgan said, adding that her daughter has sounded congested with coughing and sneezing since mid-December. “Since we’ve been here she’s had sinus and ear infections in both ears and she had a fever for five days in February.”

Morgan said that she and Jesse have experienced flu-like symptoms in the few months in the apartment.

“This just won’t go away. We can’t stay here,” Morgan said of the black substance that continues to reappear on the wooden window frames that surround the moist window panes. “We’re moving to live with my (relatives) at the end of the week.”

From her perspective, landlord Connie King sees things different than Jesse and Morgan. King said she visited the apartment, as did her husband and one of their repair staff.

“What I saw didn’t look like black mold spores. My husband and one of our workers checked it. It look like mildew and I suggested (using) bleach. The vent fan (in the bathroom) could also be used to mitigate the problem,” King said Tuesday.

Addressing the issue of Morgan and Jesse’s intent to move, King said she believes there is more to the story.

“It appears to me that they’re trying to find a way to break the lease,” King said. “There’s no substance to this. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

Meantime, a check of the bathroom on a recent Monday afternoon and the location where the ceiling tile that had been removed showed a slow leak in a pipe directly above where the ceiling tile had been positioned.

Whether mold or mildew, there was also a blackish substance on a few areas above the ceiling, including on the insulation above the tiles.

And what’s the difference between mold and mildew? Both are types of fungus and both like moist areas. From a scientific point of view — and despite the common misnomer — mildew is a mold that grows only on plants and mostly outdoors, while mold grows on non-organic materials like tile and plastic and thrives both indoors and outdoors. Both can cause health problems in humans and animals.