Help Me Be Sure My Moldy Apartment is Safe
August 17, 2018 4:20 AM   Subscribe

After a month out of town, I came home to a bathroom filled with mold due to a leak from behind the walls. I need help getting my (university) landlord to do the right thing for my four year old child and I. Details below!

I teach at a university and live in university housing. My 4 year old daughter and I went out of town for a month, and we came back a few days ago (at 1am) to a moldy bathroom with about a half inch of standing water and seriously, the strongest odor I've ever smelled which knocked me down. I honestly didn't know if it was safe to use the toilet. I opened a window, closed the door again, and called maintenance at 7am the next morning. The culprit was a leak from behind the wall, and it's been fixed, but I'm facing trouble getting them to deal with mold remediation.

So maintenance came over right away and then called their plumber. The plumber, who was very nice, worked all day to figure out the problem. While he did this, he kept the door open and he brought out my stuff from the bathroom and laid it in the living room. Now I'm worried about the air quality in the rest of the apartment.

The plumbing issue has been fixed. I insisted on a meeting with the environmental health people because I think it's important to deal with mold remediation (without being a fear-monger). They grudgingly agreed to place a dehumidifier in the bathroom, and are planning on fixing the plaster and painting with some kind of fungicide today, but so far have refused to do any kind of air scrubbing/purification, cleaning of the house beyond the bathroom, and testing of the air quality once they're done. I think they should simultaneously test outdoors and indoors to be sure mold is at similar levels. I also think they should have one of their cleaners deep clean the whole house. Are these things unreasonable?

I'm unhappy that they did not contain all of the work they did, and that moldy items have been sitting out in my living room. It smells a bit moldy when I walk in the apartment, though of course maybe I'm sensitive and my mind is playing tricks with me. I'm concerned that I'm putting my child's health at risk by moving back into the building. I think part of the problem is that they never saw/smelled it at its worst, since I opened the window. The smell had gotten much better by the next day.

How can I make sure they do the right thing? Or do I need to just move? It is subsidized and I'd prefer to stay there if possible, my kid's community is there, etc.

Thanks, MF.
posted by betsbillabong to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like the discovery of the problem was very traumatic. Sorry that happened to you!

Unless you've left something out about pre-existing conditions, I don't see the health risks in this scenario. This is a normal, if unfortunate, experience.

My advice: Clean, dehumidify, air-condition, and look forward to putting this behind you.
posted by Glomar response at 4:46 AM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

You may find the answers to this recent askme reassuring.
posted by *becca* at 4:48 AM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've had apartment floods and I basically had to move out while giant humidifiers ran 24-7. In one case they had to rebuild the apartment for 2 months, in the next case I was out for 2 weeks.

Your university should be ALL HANDS ON DECK doing a shit ton of work to make it safe to live in there for you. They should be calling somewhere like a Servpro to be doing industrial cleaning of this.

Unfortunately I have NO tips for you as to how to make someone do something they have no intention of doing because it's expensive. Especially if it's a damn university because no one cares if it's "college students." My best guess is to look up a lot of facts on how mold can damage your life and harass the shit out of them until they Do Something, but I don't know how well that would go for you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:17 AM on August 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Might be easiest to say *fix all this or give me a new home* and end up with a new home.
posted by cacao at 7:10 AM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't that be nice? They told me yesterday that if I wanted to move out, there was a really long waiting list to get into the university's family housing. I like where I live, I just don't want it to give my kid asthma!
posted by betsbillabong at 7:15 AM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If the mold exploded that quickly, I'd guess that it's a pre-existing problem, not just a pipe that burst once. I've had a few burst pipes.

If all the impacted drywall was already replaced and the pipe fixed, then the dehumidier is probably beside the point unless they're tacitly admitting that an ongoing humidity issue (/failure to have appropriate venting fans) was the real cause of the mold. Which it sounds like it wasn't? It can't hurt, of course, and might be a tiny bit useful at some prevention, but it's mostly beside the point.

Based on what I've read, I tend to think that people get asthma from prolonged exposure, not a one-off event. My question is, if it exploded that rapidly, was there ongoing exposure before and is there still a problem hidden behind the walls.
posted by slidell at 1:11 PM on August 17, 2018

Slidell, thanks. There's no fan in the bathroom, but we live in Colorado, which generally has very low humidity. Is a month quickly? They have not yet repaired the wall or replaced floors.
posted by betsbillabong at 1:51 PM on August 17, 2018

On a related note, this is what's happened to Wil Wheaton when his house came down with mold.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:06 AM on August 19, 2018

Hi all,

An update, and a further question. Thanks for all of your responses!

An update: we are STILL out of the apartment. I called in my own mold inspector after writing this, and they brought in a higher-level environmental safety person for that meeting. At that point, they determined that they DID need to do remediation -- ha, validated! For the last two and a half weeks, they have been working on the space -- had to remove both the floor and the plywood subfloor (thus necessitating asbestos remediation, ugh), as well as many of the tiles in the bathroom to clean up the plaster. They also had to do a lot of cleaning within the walls and run a dehumidifier 24/7 for like ten days to dry out the walls and the subfloor.

Question: they got the air samples back yesterday, and while the rest of the apartment is testing just fine (similar to outdoor air, etc), the bedroom we sleep in has a very high concentration of basidiospores in comparison to the air outside. They were not working in this room and sealed it off before they started the remediation work, however it was left wide open while the plumber did his initial work, and shares a corner with the bathroom door (which was also left wide open during this initial work, which was of course when the moldy air was strongest).

Here is the report.

Should I be concerned about this? Should I insist they clean this room or air scrub it? I am going to meet with them this morning and can report back.

We have been out of our apartment for almost 7 weeks. Really want to get back home, but don't want my 4yo to get asthma, etc because of my impatience.

posted by betsbillabong at 6:13 AM on August 31, 2018

I have no expertise on spores because it didn't come up with me, but I think you need to push this as far as you have to go. I'm really relieved they are finally going whole hog on the place (the ripping out all floors/ humidifiers thing sounds very typical/necessary from my experience!), but rub in "I don't want my small child to get sick" as much as you have to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:36 PM on August 31, 2018

Hi all,

Thank you all for your concern! They ended up being quite good about the mold spores in the bedroom. They had all of our clothes and other soft goods professionally cleaned, including the rug, they cleaned all hard surfaces with their special mold cleaning solution, and they used an air scrubber for several days. When it was tested again, it came out clean. Thank goodness!

I really appreciated all of the advice everyone here gave. Thank you! We were able to move in about a week ago, and it is so good to be back.
posted by betsbillabong at 1:59 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm so relieved for you!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:01 PM on September 16, 2018

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