September 16th, 2017 9:19 AM by Dan Howard
Our Note This is a sad story of mold exposure, ruined health and financial devastation and a dream of home ownership torn away for a family. The missing part of the story is that regular home inspections do not include environmental issues. Firms like Envirospect? do the kind of environmental assessments that can protect consumers from these problems.
Back in 2009, Deborah Rumberger saw homeownership
as the key to providing stability for her two young daughters, then 13
and 7. A few days before Halloween that year, after months of house
hunting, she found the one: a 100-year-old Victorian home in Helena,
It wasn't easy. For starters, her budget didn't allow for
a ton of options within a safe neighborhood. "And I just wasn't
interested in a lot of the homes I could
afford," she says. It's why she initially thought the two-story
property she would later purchase for $173,500 was too good to be true —
but she pushed her doubts to the back of her mind and bought it anyway.
first night, after an exhausting day of unpacking, she tucked her kids
into bed and crawled under the sheets. Instead of sleep, however, "I got
so sick I thought I was going to die," Rumberger recalls. Her heart
started pounding and her mouth went dry. All night long, she kept
wanting to get up, but she felt so stiff she was barely able to move.
The next morning, a thought made her go white: There's something wrong with this house.
That same day, Rumberger started calling everyone she
could think of to try to get out of her mortgage: the realtors, the
bank, the title company, everyone. "Nobody cared," she says. "They
chalked it up to buyer's remorse or stress from moving."
By the end of November, after about 30 days in her new home,
Rumberger was constantly exhausted — more than the usual fatigue that
comes with working and raising two children. One night her chest hurt so
badly that she went to the emergency room, convinced she was having a
heart attack. Another time she rushed herself to the hospital when her
limbs went completely numb. By January, she noticed troublesome changes
in her daughters, too. Her eldest was acting depressed, complaining of
an itchy scalp and had frequent nose bleeds. Her youngest had sinus
problems for the first time in her life, along with acid reflux and
Terrified over what was happening to her
family, and convinced her house was the problem, Rumberger continued
contacting her realtor, her bank, her title company, her inspector and
her doctors. Finally, that spring, she found help in a neighbor named
Clara Holliday. Holliday introduced her to the homeowner who lived in
the house before the family that sold it to Rumberger — and that's when she learned about the home's 20-year history with flooding and mold.
Rumberger learned through this previous homeowner
that the second-floor plumbing had once been re-routed through the
attic. The problem was the attic wasn't heated, which can lead to frozen
pipes. Frozen pipes can crack and leak when they expand in warmer
weather, which Rumberger suspects happened during a particularly bad
winter in 1989, when no one was residing in the home.
Pantazes, co-founder of EFynch, a handyman community in Baltimore, says
he's seen basements result in mold just days after a significant
flooding. Rumberger, however, was living in the home 20 years after unresolved flood damage.
The old homeowner urged Rumberger to search her home for mold, starting with the tub in her bathroom.
didn't have to search long. "I peeled back the plastic lining and it
was filled with mold," she says. Next, she pulled down nearby drywall
and tore up part of the carpet. Everything was covered in toxic black
"At first, I felt relief and thought 'aha!' I knew
something was going on," she says. "But at the time, I still didn't
understand how damaging and dangerous toxic mold is."
Dr. Ann Shippy, a Texas-based physician and author of Mold Toxicity Workbook: Assess Your Environment & Create a Recovery Plan, says
every one of Rumberger's symptoms — fatigue, weakness, headaches,
morning stiffness and joint pain — is textbook mold toxicity. "Mold
produces chemicals, like microtoxins and microbial volatile organic
compounds that have seriously dangerous side effects," she explains. "A
lot of people think you're only affected by mold spores if you're
allergic to them, but mold makes chemicals that build up in your body."
This is why Rumberger's two daughters didn't feel sick until a couple of
months after the move — it sometimes takes time to notice the symptoms
of mold toxicity.
After discovering the mold in her bathroom, Rumberger
convinced a home inspector to come over that very same day. A moisture
mirror, which helps identify mold behind the walls, showed evidence of
growth all over the house. Her homeowner's insurance didn't cover prior
mold or water damage, so she was looking at an $80,000 price tag to
remediate her home from top to bottom. "When I heard that, I knew it
wasn't a possibility," she says.
She wasn't ready to give up on
her dream house, so Rumberger decided to do the remediation on her own.
She rented a negative air pressure machine (which draws the mold spores
out of the house), along with suits, goggles and other supplies for a
total of $500.
But once she got to work, stirring up the mold
made the family's symptoms even worse. By June, they started camping in
the backyard, only going inside to use the restroom. "By July I couldn't
even go inside the house, because it felt like there were so many
spores that they would attack anything moist, including us," she says.
to Dr. Shippy, she's right: "When you open up a wall with mold, you
send a lot of a very powerful chemicals into the air that you breathe
into your lungs, so they go straight into circulation." Just like
doctors have found one of the most effective ways to get medication into
someone quickly is though the lungs (verses digestion, which filters
through the liver first), this makes these chemicals in the air even
Camping lasted a month, until they got rained out. With no nearby
family to turn to, they moved into the local YMCA. They'd spend the next
year sleeping in cheap motels, at her co-worker's house and late,
renting two bedrooms over a garage before finally ending up in the
apartment where they live today.
In June 2010, around the same time Rumberger was
forced to move her family into their backyard, she decided to take legal
action. "I held off for a while, because I thought 'we don't want to do
litigation, we can fix this,'" she remembers. But, financially, she
didn't see any other way out.
Rumberger filed against four parties
she believes knew about the mold before the sale. "It took almost six
years, I had five or six lawyers during that time and it was almost as
hard as the mold exposer," she says. Even though they settled to the
mutual satisfaction of all parties, Rumberger doesn't think she'd do it
"We were able to get out of debt, but let's just say we're
still tenants and our lifestyle didn't change much," she says. The only
positives Rumberger saw from the settlement was being able to afford
some much-needed medical treatment and finally being able to put this
experience behind her once and for all.
Then, in December 2010, Rumberger also convinced her bank to suspend
the mortgage payments she still owed and sold the house (with full
disclosure about the mold), ultimately incurring an almost $80,000 loss —
about the same amount as the initial remediation estimate, but with a
lot more headaches.
The new owners finished
remediating the mold, completely rebuilt the interior and turned it into
a three-unit rental, which Rumberger still drives by today. "For the
longest time, we'd just avoid that road and wouldn't drive down it," she
says. But now, on occasion, she gets the urge to see the house in which
she thought she'd grow old.
As for Rumberger and her daughters,
they still live in the same apartment they moved into a year after
fleeing their Victorian dream home. They've been renting it for more
than five years and, even if it was financially feasible, Rumberger
doesn't see herself buying again. "We lost a lot of years of our lives
and still have some health issues," she says. "But it's just one of
those things we have to come to terms with and move beyond."
Pantazes says if an inspector doesn't see mold with their own eyes,
they don't have to disclose it. But that doesn't mean potential buyers
can't look for their own clues, such as patches in the walls,
discoloration, walls that bow and bend and just general poor home
maintenance. "Little signs will show you if the owner is a person who
took care of their home," he says.
Another thing Rumberger says
shouldn't be underestimated: your gut. "My older daughter didn't have a
great feeling about the house, but we just shook it off." Today, she
wishes she listened to her daughter's instincts, which might have spared
them the entire ordeal. "Our American Dream became a nightmare, but the
biggest lesson I learned is when to hold up, when to fold up and when
to run away."