One family's horrific mold experience may lead to legislation in the state of Illinois. The following article appeared today in The Telegraph, based in southwestern Illinois (St. Louis area).
Holly and Sean Farris' nightmare at 111 S. Kingdom St. started more than a year ago when they bought their first house, which turned out to be infested with what they say is toxic mold.
After a series of oversights, the Farrises now say they own a house that they cannot live in; have a First Time Home Buyers tax credit they probably have to pay back; and have a daughter still recovering from severe sinus infections suspected as a result of living in the house.
State Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, said he plans to introduce legislation, inspired by the Farrises' situation, that would require real estate agents to disclose when toxic mold exists in saleable real estate structures.
"I don't want this to happen to anybody else," said Holly Farris, who is living with her family in another Bethalto house provided by the Madison County Urban League.
Although they didn't know it at the time, the house was being sold as part of an estate.
"I thought the people living (at Kingdom Street) owned it; it wasn't listed as an estate, which means the owner is dead, and it should have been listed as an estate, because the owner is dead."
Had the house been listed as an estate, which means "as is," the Farrises would not have looked at it at all, she said.
"Because it means no one could help you if there was a problem," she explained.
Beiser is sympathetic to the Farris' situation.
"She is in contact with me and my staff, and I'm glad she has been; it's a terrible situation," he said. "I'm introducing legislation that will, at this point, get something on the books, and knowing this would be a work in progress, so to speak, dealing with the issue. It will deal with proper disclosure at the time of sale of toxic mold being present in the structure."
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The Farrises bought the house on South Kingdom Street after their offer of $83,000 was accepted, knowing they would put a lot of money into the house to fix what they considered cosmetic flaws. When the Farrises originally went to look at the house, Holly Farris said it was full of people, dogs and smoke from cigarettes and had scented oil burners in every room. They did not notice the smell of mold.
"We went and looked at it, and they all lived there; it was dirty and outdated, but it all was cosmetic as far as I could see," she said. "I'm good with cosmetic; I can fix that."
She said she hired a home inspector after the agent and seller accepted the contract.
Brett Ahring inspected the home Jan. 26, 2010, she said.
"He came out, did the inspection and said the roof needed to be vented, and in his report said vague things about lead paint in a closet," Farris said. "But it wasn't paint, it was water damage."
The inspector told her the roof was sound and only about six or eight years old, she said.
"He put in his inspection that he walked the roof, but the roof is rotted through and leaking for upwards of a decade."
Farris said the water has been coming in on both sides of valleys in the roof.
"The water rotted out the entire common wall and the north wall," which includes a closet wall where the worst mold was found, she said. "The mold and water damage in the house came to $90,000 to fix it; you don't get that in a house unless water had been coming in for a real long time."
Ahring's report did note a breaker box needed to be exchanged, there needed to be a shut-off at the air conditioning unit, and there needed to be an exhaust fan in the bathroom, she said.
Holly said when the Farrises did their final walk-through, someone was standing in front of the closet where the most severe, visible mold was growing inside, and that person was vacuuming. Holly said she did not ask the person to move or stop, because she had paid an inspector to inspect the house.
The Farrises discovered the mold infestation only after they began to move into the house and rip out carpeting.
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She finally wrote to the Obama administration and showed a reply letter to the Urban League, which helped her family find a home, on which the Urban League pays the rent.
"We didn't have money for legal fees; if you don't have money, you can't recover," she said. "The only person willing to help us was the president (of the United States)."
This month, the Federal Housing Authority assigned an investigator to the situation with the South Kingdom Street house, Farris said.
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Her daughter, who was 12 years old at the time, slept in a room next to the closed-off bedroom with the moldy closet. She started having severe migraines, running fevers, and on the morning of April 11, 2010, woke up with her eye swollen shut, protruding from her face the size of a softball, Holly Farris said.
"We took her to the emergency room that day," she said. "They thought something was in her eye. They ran all these tests, a CAT scan, and found out her sinus cavity was completely impacted with infection," Holly said. "They put her on steroids and two different antibiotics."
The primary care physician put the Farrises' daughter on more antibiotics, but nothing worked, Holly said.
At the beginning of August 2010, her daughter had to have surgery to clean out the infection, and her physician told them to move out of the house.
"In Illinois, there still are no laws (about mold), because I've been told they say the science isn't in," said Holly, who contacted Beiser and began to work with him about legislation. Beiser and Farris have worked together the last six months on the subject.
The family moved out and stayed with either Holly's or Sean's mother. Holly wrote to President Barack Obama on Aug 17. In October, she received a reply from his office. By Nov. 20, the Urban League found the Farrises a house in which to live.
Now, the Farrises still own the Kingdom Street house, owe the mortgage, as well as the First Time Home Buyers tax credit, because they moved out of the house.
"When we moved out, we voided the homeowners insurance simply by not living there," Holly Farris said.
Allstate dropped them from their home insurance, she said. On Feb. 22, 2011, the arbitrator informed Holly he couldn't make the inspector be responsible for the mold damage, because he is not a mold inspector, she said. The Farrises owe $83,000 on the house to U.S. Bank.
"At the very end of the hearing, the arbitrator goes off and says the house never should have been sold," she said.