How to pay for mold clean up for low income family?
February 6, 2012 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Have a serious mold problem. Do mold removal companies do payment plans? What guidelines does the government follow to declare a home too hazardous to live in?

Our hot water tank spewed hot water for a week before we discovered it. I feel like such an idiot for not realizing it sooner. This was shortly after we had flooding in our basement. Needless to say it's a huge mess down there. All the water is gone, but there is visible mold on the walls and ceiling tiles.

There is way too much for me to clean on my own, nevermind that my asthma doesn't like it down there. Unfortunately, the insurance won't cover the cost of the clean up.

I did some preliminary research and some websites say it can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars to clean up this kind of mess. I don't have thousands, not even on any credit cards.

I don't know what to do. We cannot leave it like it is, even I know that. It all has to be cleaned or torn out. Is it unheard of for companies that do mold removal to work out payment plans? Or somehow help low income families?

As if I didn't already have enough problems, my plumbing is all screwed up. Something is wrong and has put our shower and one toilet out of commission. My neighbor has snaked it and it's still not flowing. We need to call a plumber. I'm afraid that if we bring one over and he sees the basement, he's going to call the police or CDC or whomever.. they're going to see the state it's in and take our home from us. This house was built by my grandparents.. but more importantly it's the only place for me and my family to live. We own it outright, no mortgage. I've looked around and between my family health problems (unrelated to the mold, chronic illnesses), personal debt, and my income, I can't afford rent anywhere else. what's the chances of the government swooping in and kicking us out if a plumber calls them? Do they take possession of everything in the house as well? Will we be left with just the clothes on our backs?

This problem is causing me huge amounts of anxiety. I don't know what to do and feel very much in over my head. I've not been sleeping well and I'm seriously concerned for my family members and my pets.

What should I do?

(If it matters, I live in southeastern Michigan)
posted by previously to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
I can only tell you an experience three months ago that happened to my (disabled) aunt, cousin and two young children. (This is in Florida)
An electrician came into their home to fix something, saw that there was a lot of mold behind the walls. He called Child Services. Child Service came to the house and told them they had to find somewhere for the children to stay until the mold was cleaned up or they would take them. They said the adults (my aunt and cousin) could do whatever they wanted as long as the children were not in the place.
My aunt and cousin could not afford the mold clean up and moved out (my aunt stayed an additional week, my cousin and her kids left that day). They ended up staying with my sister. My aunt has/had a mortgage on the place but I have no idea what happened with that. They currently live in a shitty apartment now.

So, I'm guessing unless you have an elderly person in your house or children, I don't think anythign will happen. But I could be totally wrong.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:54 AM on February 6, 2012

Unless it's a really cut-and-dried policy exclusion, it might be worth appealing your insurance company's denial of coverage. It might even be worth getting your state insurance regulator or state Attorney General involved. This is why people have homeowner's insurance, after all.

If you can't live there in the state it's in, then you don't have a choice but to call a mold removal specialist. Worrying about whether they are going to have the house condemned is secondary to solving this problem. There is a 100% chance you'll have to leave if you don't solve the problem, but a <1>
So you ask the mold removal people whether they will work with you: you say, "there's an issue with insurance coverage that we are working on, but we have to get this done. Can you work with us if we pay (say) $300 up front and $100 every month until the insurance issue is solved?" And then you call around until you find someone who says "yes."

And do make the effort to get satisfaction out of the insurance company.
posted by gauche at 8:58 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Michigan's Dept. of Community Health has several resources on mold. There are some informational flyers here. Specifically, check out this one (pdf) which has a few tips about insurance (even if you're not covered for mold, maybe can you claim it under water damage?) and gives a list of groups and agencies that might be able to help if you are in a tough financial situation.

On the side question about the plumbing not draining, are you on your own septic system or connected to a town sewer?
posted by Wretch729 at 9:10 AM on February 6, 2012

I'll bet you're out of luck on insurance. The insurance policy probably excluded the flooding damage and attributes all the mold to that flooding. You have to buy a flood policy in most states to cover damage caused by flood waters. (I don't know about your state.)

The fact that the water heater busted and leaked for a while will probably be blamed on the flooding (I assume it's in the basement?) and, for that reason, also not covered by the insurance policy. If it's not in the basement, and the water it leaked ran into the basement, you might have a different argument. But the insurance company will likely fight you very hard on that one simply because they will say the mold was caused by the flood waters while you will say the mold was caused by the water heater's water.

Is it possible for you to look into a home renovation loan? You say the house is mortgage-free, so this could be the opportunity for you to take out a loan, with the house as collateral, to renovate your basement and remediate the mold issues. Think of it as like re-financing. It would likely be cheaper than moving out and renting.

Lastly, this is why you always cut away sheetrock and insulation after a flood up to a level just above where it's wetted by a flood, and then spray that area with a bleach solution. You don't want mold, so you have to get all that wet stuff out of there BEFORE mold begins to grow. If you're worried about asthma, perhaps you could buy a respirator?
posted by resurrexit at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2012

If there are any windows, vents, or whatever, connecting the basement to the outside, you could set up a fan, to run 24/7, to exhaust the air in that space to the outside, thereby putting it under negative pressure, and having the air from the house go into that space, rather than having the air in the basement flow into the house.

It is not a fix, but it will buy you time and keep the air in your house more healthy.
posted by Danf at 9:17 AM on February 6, 2012

Mold needs moisture to grow. Get a big dehumidifier and run it until everything dries up, that's what the mold removal people will do. Some dehumidifiers give you the option of running a hose from them to a working drain instead of having to constantly empty the tray.

Labels on dehumidifiers will tell you how large of an area they can serve.

Once you have it all dried out you should be able to better assess the damage. Is it a finished basement? You may have to replace the ceiling.

Kogeliz's story is scary, I've never heard of this kind of thing happening. Does anyone sleep in the basement?

Are there any programs in your area that provide low-cost repairs to low-income families?
posted by mareli at 9:38 AM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes. Run a dehumidifier in the basement continuously while you figure out plan "B".
posted by jbenben at 9:58 AM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm willing to bet that you can do the majority of this yourself for a fairly low cost. I dealt with mold in my basement in Michigan and this is how I handled it.

First, go to your local building supply store and get a respirator that's rated for mold for yourself and anybody that's helping.

Second, as others have said, get a dehumidifier/dehumidifiers and get them running 24/7 to dry out the basement. Pull out the ceiling tiles and anything removable that's moldy.. drywall, carpet, etc. If you need power tools to do this, check out the pawn shops. I was in MI for christmas and picked up several power tools for very cheap at my local pawn shop.

Anything that's moldy that can't be removed can be sprayed with a bleach/water solution to kill the mold before it sporulates. If you only have a little, a normal spray bottle will work, if you have a lot you might want a pesticide sprayer.

You can do this over the course of this week/end, and then you can call the plumber to take care of the drain issue. Can you find a place to shower for the week? PITA, but better than risking CPS.
posted by zug at 11:02 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you can't do the work yourself look for a neighborhood handyperson, a Jill/Jack of all trades. Given the economy in your part of the country there ought to be plenty around, ask friends and family for recommendations.
posted by mareli at 11:16 AM on February 6, 2012

If I were in your situation, I would start by calling your county environmental health folks. (I don't know what county you're in, but it looks like at least some county environmental health departments in SE Michigan handle mold.) I know actually contacting the government probably sounds like the *last* thing you want to be doing right now, but you don't have to tell them your name or address, and you can call from someone else's phone if you'd feel more comfortable. They may have advice on who to call in your area, or resources for you. Also, I think talking to someone at the government could help make you feel more comfortable about this. You can ask them if mold in a (non-living-space) basement causes that kind of situation. I strongly suspect they'll tell you it doesn't.

Also: you actually have a huge advantage here, because (a) you know the source of the mold -- the busted hot water heater -- and (b) you have already abated it (cured it). Most really expensive mold situations involve something like a cracked basement slab, which needs to be fixed before the mold situation can be addressed.

I think zug has good advice about dealing with this as a private homeowner. EPA also has good cleanup guidelines to refer to. One thing I haven't seen mentioned above is getting rid of the debris -- you may need to rent a rolloff dumpster. This seems like a decent guide to how to do that as a homeowner. I'd suggest calling a couple local solid waste companies to get quotes.
posted by pie ninja at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any updates? I hope you were able to find a solution.
posted by zug at 9:58 AM on February 9, 2012

Yes, what zug said, you can probably do a lot of this yourself unless you're immuno-compromised. It might also be worth asking for help via friends, a church, or a group like Habitat for Humanity.

Get a respirator and some goggles. Take trash bags or other plastic sheeting and some duct tape and cover over any air ducts connecting basement to the first floor. Then tear out the moldy stuff. Put it in trashbags, then take it out to the yard. Before you go upstairs, undress and take off your shoes -- avoid tracking the stuff everywhere.

Once you have the moldy drywall and ceiling off, you might have to take out some of the insulation, if it's also all moldy. Then, you might have to scrub or vacuum the wood. Eventually, you'll want to rehang insulation and drywall, but for now, the important thing is to get the water dried out and keep the mold from spreading into the areas where you live.

If you want to go down this pathway, let us know and I'll look up the EPA handbook's official advice.
posted by slidell at 3:09 PM on February 9, 2012

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