Published on July 5th, 2017 | by Brittain Thompson0
Home Is Where The Mold Is: A Cautionary Tale of Renting in Oxford
People living on a budget are often forced to take whatever housing they can find. Combine this fact with the high number of old houses in Oxford and it adds up to living conditions that are not always ideal or healthy.
The majority of legal obligations involved in renting a home are defined by the lease. Once a tenant’s signature marks that document, they are legally bound to whatever terms have been outlined.
Oxford resident Michael Longo learned this the hard way after signing a lease for a property managed by a large, local rental agency.
“I signed a lease for the house without looking at it,” said Longo.
It is not uncommon for a new rental to require some maintenance, and all requests are typically handled prior to, or quickly after, the tenant moving in. However, unless stated explicitly in the lease, the landlord is not required to maintain the house beyond a habitable condition.
“It was bad,” said Longo. “So I asked them to replace the carpet and then a couple days later I was trying to move my stuff in and there was just that moldy [stuff] all over the windows, all over the blinds.”
Longo refused to move into the home with his child. The company claimed that Longo was in breach of contract despite his claims that there was life-threatening mold inside the home. At that point, his deposit would not be returned.
“[The landlord] said he’s going to keep my $700 deposit but he’s going to let me out of the lease as a favor,” said Longo.
Refusing to lose the deposit, Longo pressed the landlord further, but an argument broke out over landlord’s claim that they could have rented the home to someone else and already be making money on the property.
“It’s a crooked system,” said Longo.
Longo began searching for help in any form he could find. He contacted the alderman who represents the property’s ward, but was informed that the City of Oxford does not have a department responsible for inspecting the environmental quality of a residential property. The state, however, does have the Mississippi Department of Environmental Equality. The trail ended there due to the fact that MDEQ does not have regulations regarding the presence of black mold in private homes.
The only possibility left was to have the mold tested to prove that is was a threat to the health of himself and his small child.
“I’ve been sending out emails trying to get someone to come inspect the house and prove my case that these are not habitable places,” said Longo. “I wanted to get it tested and checked out before me and my kid move in. None of these places have been maintenanced in years. If it’s built up that much around the windows then there’s no telling what’s in those air vents.”
The test came back as a positive for toxicity. When the results were relayed to the rental agency, the company offered Longo his deposit back. As of writing he has not accepted the offer and is pushing to make a case against the company. So far, no lawyer has taken his case.
After talking with Longo, he mentioned a friend of his, Travis Perkins, who had rented a property through another local rental agency and is currently receiving medical treatment due to living in a mold-contaminated home.
“I’ve lived in that house for four years,” said Perkins. “I’ve been chronically ill for the last two years.”
Roughly three weeks before moving out of the house, Perkins became sick with strep throat. His doctor placed him on antibiotics, but he suffered a reaction to the medication that caused most of his left side to go numb. Visits to the hospital gave little insight as to what the problem was.
“I went back home to Jackson [Mississippi] and went to St. Dominic,” said Perkins. “They ran some tests on me and found that this was all black mold–related. My lungs were infected, which was making my shoulder inflamed, and it got to my nerves, which was making my arm numb.”
After finding that the mold was the root of his health issue, Perkins got out of the house immediately.
Perkins showed his property manager the issue. He says she told him there was nothing she could do about it.
“I walked around the house with her and crawled up under the house—this is a 70 year old house—and there was a standing pool of water right under my bedroom, and it was pushing up through the floorboards. The same with the kitchen and bathroom,” said Perkins. “At that point she looked me dead in the face and said she couldn’t do much for me anymore . . . so I packed my stuff up and moved out the next day.”
The property manager had actually lived next door to Perkins, but recently moved out due to her own mold problem.
“She was fully aware of it; we had told her several times,” said Perkins. “Maybe it was a culmination of her being tired and the actual realtor company putting pressure on her as well.”
Perkins noticed that several houses on Mimosa Drive were being vacated due to mold issues.
Proving the origin of these types of problems, and of any property damage in general, can be difficult. If the damage results from tenant use the landlord can not only deny help, but may even charge the tenant for the damage.
“These companies can get by selling subpar living conditions to poor, working class people or poor college people,” said Perkins.
As of this writing, Perkins resides in Jackson, Mississippi, while he receives treatment for the mold in his lungs. Attempts at taking legal action developed slowly due to his financial situation.
Longo is still in Limbo with no lawyers will to accept his case. He is currently attempting to build evidence by going door to door and talking to residents regarding the mold issue.
Whether you are looking to rent, or are currently renting, a property in Oxford be sure to have the home thoroughly inspected for mold and any other damage. Have your property manager state in writing what they will and will not do in the event that mold or other environmental risks appear at the property.