A Lacombe family is homeless after a mold contamination in their rental house has robbed them of their home and the majority of their possessions.
The Poelzers — Lili, Mike, four-year-old Clifford, two-year-old Stockton and seven-month Theodor (Teddy) — moved to Lacombe in May 2018 in order to save money for a new home — a goal which was difficult in their previous Lower Mainland home.
In January 2019, the Poelzers began to notice several health issues, particularly with Teddy who was diagnosed at the time with pneumonia, which ended up lasting for months. Teddy was also tested for cystic fibrosis, asthma allergies and other conditions.
Concurrently, the family also noticed a mold smell coming from their bathroom on the main floor. Lili requested a mold test from their landlord who, according to Lili, indicated that (they) would reimburse them for the test which can be ordered online.
Due to Teddy’s health problems, Lili didn’t order the test in January, but by March, Mike noticed that his bedroom closet upstairs was covered in mold.
“We sent the landlord pictures and told (them) we will have to find a new place to live,” Lili said. “(They) wanted to remediate it without testing it.”
Eventually, the landlord came to do an air test on May 2 according to Lili, and at the same time requested that rent be paid until the end of June since one month’s notice would have had to come on May 1.
“(They) didn’t say sorry this is happening to your son — (they) just wanted to know when we are paying rent,” Lili said. “(They) told us that if we don’t pay up until the end of June, we would be breaking the law because we are supposed to give one month’s notice.
“I bit my tongue, paid the rent and had the public health inspector come in.”
A letter to the Poelzers from Bob More, the AHS public health inspector who came in, indicated in his report that:
- There is no smoke alarm in the upper level.
- There is water damage and mould growth on the north and east walls and ceiling in the closet in the upper level northeast bedroom.
- Outside light is visible through the north wall of the foundation in the basement.
- There are bricks falling away from the south wall of the foundation in the basement and a support beam is sloping down from the front of the premise to the rear.
- The outside frame of the dining area window (north side) is rotting due to water damage.
- Fungal air testing indicates that there are above acceptable levels of Aspergillus/Penicillium spores in the main floor bathroom, upper floor closet (northeast bedroom), upper floor hall and the basement. There are above acceptable levels of Cladosporium spores in the basement.
More added the house, “Cannot be occupied by new tenants until such time as the above noted conditions have been rectified.”
A similiar letter stating the above guidelines was also sent to the homeowner, according to AHS communications. At this time, there has been no Executive Officer’s Order from AHS to condemn the home.
Lili said they did not recieve the results of the air test until May 9. By then, the Poelzers had already moved into a hotel — a fact the landlord was not aware of.
Lili said she was upset that the landlord had thought they were living in the house knowing that some of the mold levels were above the safe level.
“(They) knew we were having problems,” she said. “(They) didn’t know we were living in a hotel and (they) allowed us to live in the house while knowing the numbers. I find that disgusting that another human being would do that.
“If (they) hadn’t withheld the results, I would have let it go.”
The Poelzers have since moved into a friend’s home until they can move into a new rental, which will be considerably more expensive, although Lili said their health is worth the extra cost.
The new place will be without most of their possessions due to the fact insurance does not cover “gross neglect”, according to Lili.
“The remediator said most homes contents are around the $110,000 mark to replace everything,” Lili said. “To clean it all is $45,000, and that doesn’t guarantee it will clean everything. Our beds and couches are gone, the hotel costs are on us and all of the other additional costs are on us. We have depleted our savings and the money my stepfather gave us for a down-payment is gone. Our rent is going up exorbitantly in our new place, but it is worth it because we will be safe.
“We have to find a lawyer who will work on contingency because our only recourse is to sue (them).”
Beyond the monetary costs of the ordeal, Lili said the physical, emotional and mental costs of the situation have been high for her family.
Physically, Teddy’s breathing problems have led to nights in the emergency room and two-year-old Stockton has dealt with behavioural issues that Lili and Mike thought was autism symptoms, but have mostly corrected since they moved out of the house.
The mold test to connect Teddy’s heath issues is invasive, according to Lili, and was deemed unethical by a doctor to do once his symptoms improved.
“The doctor team said they can’t conclude it was mold, but given the levels of the house, the testing and the fact he improved once out of the environment — it was likely to assume it was mold,” she said.
Lili’s home business as a seamstress has also been affected negatively.
“It is the busiest time of the year for us with grad season,” she said. “I was only able to complete a couple dresses before all of this happened. All of my supplies are gone.
“I start at the Lacombe Wednesday Market, but I have nothing to sell. I am liable for anyone’s stuff I have.”
Lili added their oldest son Clifford is crying himself to sleep.
“He doesn’t have a house to go to, he has to lose all of his toys and he doesn’t understand why. There is something in the house that makes us sick and he doesn’t understand why,” Lili said.
The Poelzers are grateful they have managed to stay together through it all.
“This could have broken up a lot of people and we really thankful that hasn’t happened,” Lili said.
Lili and Mike hope that by going public, this won’t happen to someone else.
“Since telling this story, we have heard from people living in moldy homes. They get out and they are better. It isn’t on record because no one thinks it is a problem,” she said. “People have died from this — being exposed to the type of mold that we have been exposed to.”
Mike added, “We want people to know to take it seriously and if you have a mold problem — get it remediated professionally. Don’t do it yourself because that is obviously what has happened in this house.”
There is currently a gofundme page for the Poelzers which has so far raised $2,725 towards a goal of $75,000 to help the family continue to deal with ongoing issue.
The family is thankful for the community support.
“It has been our saving grace. If we didn’t have that, we would be bankrupt with nothing,” he said.
Going forward, it is unclear what the long-term results will be.
“The doctors say we should be alright, but some of the molds in the house are carcinogenic. We could develop cancer in 10 year — who knows,” Poelzer said.
The Lacombe Express is working to track down the owner of the residence for comment. The name of the owner and address of the home will not be released before that contact is made.