For Charmaine and Derven Barrett, home is where the smell is.
Since late December, the couple's Pembroke Pines apartment has
been infested with mold.
It has damaged most of their furniture and forced them to throw
away shoes, clothes, and purses. They estimate a $5,000 loss.
They even have to sleep on a mattress in their living room
because the musty mildew odor has permeated their bedroom.
Repeated attempts to eliminate the mold have failed, and now they
want to move out of the Resort at Pembroke Pines, 11801 Pembroke
Barrett, 41, and his 34-year-old wife are members of a growing
group of people with mold complaints.
In fact, it's the fastest-growing category of grievances received
by the Division of Hotels and Restaurants, a state agency that
licenses apartment complexes.
''It's really common,'' said Geoff Luebkemann, the division's
director. ``The typical complaint is that mold is occurring or
reoccurring, and the management's reaction.''
Like the Barretts, homeowners throughout the country have had to
deal with mold. Some spend large sums of money removing it from
their homes, while others have had to abandon their property
Gary W. Jackson, a partner with the law firm Lewis and Roberts in
North Carolina, said he has seen an increasing number of cases
dealing with mold in the past two years.
''People and doctors began to connect the dots,'' said Jackson,
who has handled cases involving mold. ``There's a huge increase in
the amount of money insurance companies have dealt out because of
it. Three or four years ago, there was no such thing.''
The Barretts said they have to air out their apartment if it has
been closed for a few hours.
''Some evenings, we have to stay outside because the smell is so
bad,'' Charmaine Barrett said.
Apartment mangers bleached and painted the walls and fixed a leak
from the balcony when they learned about the mold in February, said
Keith Olson, senior vice president of Waterton Property
Despite these and the couple's own attempts to clean the walls of
the apartment, the problem persists.
Cleaning is not enough, environmental experts say.
''If nothing is done to address the basic cause, nothing you do
is going to be effective. In an apartment that may have a plumbing
problem or leak, immediate action needs to be taken,'' said Tim
Wallace, an environmental specialist for the state Department of
Health's Division of Environmental Health.
Mold does have health effects, said Paul Johnson, an
environmental scientist with the Broward County Health
''You don't want mold in an indoor environment,'' Johnson said.
``It's a health issue and can trigger asthma in asthmatic people,
can enhance respiratory problems, and immune-compromised people can
Christine Rogers, a research associate for the Department of
Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, agreed
that mold can exacerbate health problems.
''Exposure to mold is very clearly known to play a role in
exasperating asthma,'' Rogers said. She researches mold on a
The couple say they are suffering headaches and other medical
problems because of the situation, making numerous visits to a
They keep the remainder of their clothes -- those that haven't
already been ruined by the mold -- in bags to prevent further
Inspectors from Luebkemann's agency visited the Barretts'
apartment in February.
''Management wiped down with bleach or something and repainted
with some type of wash. The mildew is coming up through the paint,''
according to the state report issued at the time.
Inspectors returned to the apartment on March 7 and said they saw
no violations. They made another visit on May 6, and found mold
Olson said management returned to the apartment last week to
bleach and paint it.
The Barretts said it was a halfhearted effort.
Other apartments with mold issues in the 13-year-old complex were
taken care of, according Olson, who didn't say how many apartments
A Herald reporter visited the apartment recently and saw mold
throughout, especially on the darkened walls of the bedrooms, the
living room and below the bathroom sink.
The Barretts and management thought the problem was caused by a
plumbing leak, which management said it fixed.
Renters should contact their landlords or management companies if
they have mold problems.
''It's up to the landlord to take care of the situation,''
In the event that a landlord doesn't comply, tenants can take
very specific actions outlined in state statutes.
Larry Kaplan, assistant director of the Broward County Consumer
Affairs Division, said tenants with mold complaints can contact the
county's Zoning Code Services office at 954-468-3434. The office
''In some maintenance-related cases, the tenants can legally
terminate their lease without penalty,'' Kaplan said.
However, tenants must be able to show a lack of maintenance by
the landlord created the condition and the landlord didn't take the
adequate steps to fix it.
Kaplan suggests contacting the state's Division of Hotels and
Restaurants and the county's Consumer Affairs Division with
''We will be glad to give them information on their rights as