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Feds to inspect moldy apartments

Jill Lufrano

Federal housing officials will inspect a Carson City low-income apartment complex after several tenants complained of sickness and unhealthy living conditions.

Managers of the Kelbourne Apartments visited a number of tenants Wednesday after receiving a complaint about mold seeping through window sills, walls and growing on furniture in the complex. Current and former tenants said they suffered health problems from exposure to toxic mold they say has existed for several years.

Several tenants at the complex receive federal Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidies for rent, causing those to meet federal guidelines for decency, safety and sanitation, said Nevada federal housing department official Ken Lobene in Las Vegas.

After hearing about problems at the complex, the Rural Housing Authority that disperses federal housing funds to its tenants called for an investigation, Lobene said.

“They’re going to schedule inspections right away,” Lobene said. “We want to make sure that if we’re paying the landlord rent … we want to make sure the landlord lives up to (federal) standards.”

If mold is found, the complex is given a specific time period to complete testing and fix the problems. If they fail to meet the deadline, the federal housing department will remove them from a list of properties and withdraw funding, Lobene said.

However, only those apartments receiving federal assistance can be inspected. Tenants on Social Security or paying rent on their own need to find other resources for help, Lobene said.

Federally-assisted apartments that qualify for the funding are inspected every year as a way to protect the low-income tenants from being exposed to unhealthy or unsafe situations that they have no way to deal with financially.

“We’re dealing with people who don’t have as much options to move as you and I might,” Lobene said. “It’s not easy for somebody who is on a low or fixed income that is not sufficient for them to have the kind of mobility you or I might.”

Managers of the apartments owned by KB Apartments LLC said they visually inspected as many as they could on Wednesday. No scientific testing for mold was done, but they did find traces of mildew in showers, said former owner and now manager Jim Darst of Lafayette, Calif.

“We found people can do a little better job cleaning,” Darst said.

The foundations will be vented and pumped out and dry rot will be replaced, he said. State and local laws do not require owners to fix mold problems. The city can designate the situation as a health nuisance but can only give suggestions on how to clean and test the mold.

Darst said he didn’t agree with recent health complaints made by tenants of headaches, exhaustion, infections and eye irritation.

“I don’t think they know what is a health risk or what is not a health risk,” Darst said. “We don’t think there’s any health risk from what we’ve seen.”

Darst and partner Jim Rafton said they hadn’t received many complaints in the past about mold. Rafton said they will look into the situation and didn’t know what might be done in the future.

Six women and one man contacted the Nevada Appeal this week to report several health problems after living at the complex. The tenants said the mold has sickened residents for years.

Some are afraid to speak up about the problems with management at the complex because they don’t want to lose their housing, they said. The complex houses several elderly residents and many who require oxygen treatment.

Two tenants were offered money for rent and damages Wednesday and were asked to sign a settlement that would prevent them from suing the owner of the complex over any health or property damages.

Tenant Jackie Anderson, who had mold growing on cinderblock walls and furniture, said she signed the agreement and will move from the complex soon.

The owner will pay for Anderson’s January rent, damages to furniture and the cost to move, she said.

“I made a settlement with these guys so I’m out of it,” Anderson said. “I just want out of here.”

Former resident Sharon Evans lived at the apartments from February 1999 to July 2001 and remembers being exhausted and suffered sore muscles, aches and pains. She cleaned black mold that kept appearing in her bathroom and around her windows with bleach, she said.

Evans wanted to move out after one year but physically couldn’t. “I was unable to move because I wasn’t feeling well enough to do that,” Evans said.

Just before moving out in the summer of 2001, the apartment manager started working on a wall in her bathroom. When he opened it up, he found a black substance covering the inside wood and paneling. He immediately left the apartment saying he needed to find somebody to repair it, Evans said.

The manager never returned to repair the wall that stayed exposed with what Evans thinks was black mold. She tried not to take too many showers in the room but soon moved out, she said.

“When they took the wall off, it was all black,” Evans said. “They did not cover it up or repair it. It was ugly. I took very few showers until I could get out of there.”

Managers Darst and Rafton said they want to work with tenants who have problems and will release them from any leases they hold if they want to move because of health reasons.

“We’re just trying to provide good housing for people,” Rafton said. “If they want to move, they can certainly move. If someone has a health problem or has a concern and need to move, feel free to move.”

Contact Jill Lufrano at jlufrano@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.