Mold at Rowan University / Update on West Virginia mold bill

Mold has been increasingly becoming an issue in Morgantown over the last year, and other areas are experiencing the problem, too.

In Glassboro, N.J., students are upset that mold isn’t being removed fast enough in the student townhouses at Rowan University.

According to the article on myfoxphilly.com, “University officials told students about the mold in this letter last month admitting they knew about the problem since last September.”

Despite knowing about the mold since September, university officials waited six months to alert students. They told the news station that the “problem is bigger than they first thought and they need more people to clean it all up.”

NJ.com says that “A Monroe Township-based environmental consultant has released a report alleging widespread mold contamination throughout the ventilation systems of 109 of the 113 townhouses on Rowan University’s campus.” Of those 113, 70 percent had “heavy to excessive” mold.

Edward Knorr — the principal environmental/health investigator with Quality Environmental Concepts who has been contracted by Rowan for 18 years — said after he performed mold investigations this winter, he advised Rowan officials about the problem and urged them to conduct further evaluations. Knorr said officials refused and banned him from the university.

However, Rowan University spokesman Joe Cardona says they are not ignoring any of these recommendations and are actually following the protocol laid out by Knorr. In addition, no students have reported negative effects from mold at this time, Cardona said.

Knorr said that a student had reported mold on her bedpost. After removal, mold kept returning, leading him to believe that it must have been coming through the heating system. When he looked inside the HVAC, it was coated with mold.

Mold on an HVAC system at the Rowan townhouses. (Photo credit: NJ.com)

So far, 24 units have been cleaned – 10 during winter break and 14 during spring break. Cardona said some things will be left until summer, “but only because it’s not harmful or disturbing students in any way.”

During West Virginia’s legislative session this year, members of West Virginia University’s Student Government Association worked to try to get a bill passed that would make landlords more accountable for removing mold.

House Bill 4425 died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I contacted Earl Hewitt, the SGA’s off-campus housing director who worked on creating the bill with members of WVU’s student legal services and the environmental health and safety staff, to find out what he plans to do next since the bill was not passed.

Hewitt said the next step for him is to get in touch with Sen. Robert D. Beach (D – Monongalia County), in order to build a better relationship with him for next session to get more pull in the senate. He also sent emails to the senators who sat on the subcommittee, and Beach was the only one to respond. He said he wants to be persistent with them to figure out what seemed to be the problems with the bill.

Another step Hewitt plans to take is to set up a meeting with people who were involved over the past year with drafting the bill to find “the best way to attack for next session.”

I did have some more follow-up questions for Hewitt, but he has not yet responded. When/if he does, I’ll be sure to update again.

-Leann

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Sunnyside Up could lose 25 percent of funding from city

Morgantown City Council is working on its upcoming fiscal year budget, and Sunnyside Up could lose 25 percent of its funding, according to to WDTV (Some Sunnyside Up Funding on Chopping Block in Upcoming Morgantown Budget).

On Tuesday night, city council approved the first reading of the new fiscal year budget.

According to WDTV, Sunnyside Up would receive the biggest cut in funding. Council voted 4-3 to reallocate that money into savings.

Morgantown City Councilman Bill Byrne does not agree with the decision:

“It’s a great partnership between the university and the city, and every dollar that we put in, the university matches a dollar. So, we take $25,000 out, we basically are cutting not just $25,000 from the program, from the investment in Sunnyside, but $50,000, because the university is likely to match only what we put in, so it’s not a wise financial move,” said Morgantown City Councilman Bill Byrne.

 

Sunnyside Up Executive Director Jim Hunt told WDTV that he’s confident the organization can work through it, and that he hopes council will reconsider the funding.

Morgantown City Council will meet again March 20.

(source: http://www.facebook.com/SunnysideUpWV)

This past weekend, West Virginia University’s Student Government Association and members of the Greek community teamed up with Sunnyside Up to clean up the neighborhood. Approximately 300 students showed up and collected over 150 bags of trash. Read more about the cleanup from the Daily Athenaeum – “Campus organizations take part in community cleanup.”

Sunnyside Up’s board of directors will meet 7:30 a.m. next Wednesday, March 14 at its offices in the Seneca Center.

– Leann

Charleston Daily Mail story talks about mold legislation

If you’ve been keeping up with Inspecting Sunnyside, the issues with mold and bedbugs in Morgantown aren’t new to you.

In today’s Charleston Daily Mail, there’s an article about House Bill 4425, which addresses the issue of mold in rental housing.

The full article is available here – Bill tackles continuing mold issue

According to the article:

The state House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill last week that would require landlords to address mold problems when they are reported. It is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under normal Senate rules, the bill would have to pass the committee by Wednesday to be voted on by Saturday, the last day of the regular session.

One part of the story that’s a bit disheartening is the writers of the original bill said the current version has been watered down. The amended version no longer allows for a tenant to break his or her lease if the landlord does not address the problem and the home is uninhabitable.

Introduced version:

Committee substitute:

I’ll make sure to keep checking on the status of the bill tomorrow and updating when I can.

– Leann

House Bill 4425 passes the House, communicated to the Senate

House Bill 4425, which would would require landlords in West Virginia to address issues of the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold, passed the House today and has been communicated to the Senate.

The bill was created by West Virginia University Student Government Association Off-Campus Housing Director Earl Hewitt, Carrie Showalter of WVU Student Legal Services and Nancy Key of Environmental Health & Safety.

Last week, members of the SGA traveled to the Capitol to help push for the bill. (West Virginia University students push for statewide bill on mold regulations)

You can follow the status of the bill here – House Bill 4425.

You can read the bill here – HB 4425 Text.

– Leann

West Virginia University students push for statewide bill on mold regulations

Today’s Daily Athenaeum had a follow-up article on the West Virginia University Student Government Association’s progress on getting legislation passed on mold regulations.

According to the article (“Student orgs advocate for safe housing bill“), more than 30 students from the SGA and Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement traveled to the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. to push for House Bill 4425.

House Bill 4425 would amend and reenact §37-6-30 of West Virginia State Code. It would require a landlord to “address issues of accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold; and requiring the landlord to perform mold remediation in accordance with professional standards.”

The exact wording to be added if passed would be:

(8) Maintain the premises in such a condition as to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold and to promptly respond to any notices from a tenant. When the accumulation of moisture in the dwelling unit materially affects the health or safety of any tenant or authorized occupant, the landlord may require the tenant to temporarily vacate the dwelling unit in order for the landlord to perform mold remediation in accordance with professional standards.

The lead sponsor for House Bill 4255 is Tiffany Elizabeth Lawrence (D-Jefferson). It is also sponsored by Ryan Ferns (D-Ohio), Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D-Monongalia), Tim Miley (D-Harrison) and Jim Morgan, (D-Cabell).

The bill was introduced to the house on February 6, but no other action has been taken yet.

I’m going to keep following up with this bill. Hopefully the WVU students will have an impact on legislators and some action will be taken.

– Leann

WVU’s SGA talks about mold legislation

In today’s Daily Athenaeum, there’s an article about Student Government Association Off-Campus Housing Director Earl Hewitt’s progress on introducing mold legislation (SGA pushes for safer housing laws).

I talked to Hewitt a few weeks ago about how mold is a major issue with off-campus housing in Morgantown. You can read that post here.

West Virginia has no legislation regarding tenants’ rights when it comes to mold.

Hewitt told the DA:

“Students can get sick and have to move out of their homes, but still have to pay rent because nothing is holding landlords liable. The bill encompasses a lot about mold and its effects on residential housing, which has been one of the biggest issues on campus in the past few years.”

According to the article, the bill would “require landlords to offer alternative housing up to 10 days for tenants who suffer medical conditions due to inhalation of mold or force them to renegotiate the lease agreement.”

The bill would also require that mold that is less than nine square feet would have to be cleaned with a disinfectant and moisture would have to be removed with humidifiers.

The DA also spoke with Nancy Key, WVU environmental health and safety specialist. Key said that students need to recognize the signs of mold and report them to their landlords immediately because living around mold can lead to respiratory irritation and other more serious problems to those allergic.

So what does mold look like? Well, it can be small like this:

(photo credit: http://katysexposure.wordpress.com)

While that may not look threatening, Key told the DA, “Just because it doesn’t look bad, doesn’t mean you’re safe. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize because it’s been painted over.”

Painting over mold is not the solution.

If left untreated, mold can spread like this:

(photo credit: www.apartmenttherapy.com)

Ever experienced mold problems in a rental unit? Let me know in the comments.

– Leann

The Players: Student Government Association – Part 2

My last post (The Players: Student Government Association – Part 1) discussed how West Virginia University’s Student Government Association is involved with off-campus student housing. I spoke with the SGA’s Director of Off-Campus Housing, Earl Hewitt, to get his thoughts on what the biggest problems were with off-campus housing. This post, part 2, will cover more topics from my interview with him.

Hewitt said WVU holds an off-campus housing fair to address issues and hand out information, but many students don’t use the university’s resources.

There are a couple reasons students may not use these resources – 1) they may not be aware of them and 2) the housing database hasn’t been kept up-to-date.

Hewitt said the off-campus housing search hasn’t been updated, and has many apartments listed that are no longer around. WVU’s Information Technology department runs the Student Life website where the housing search is located. Hewitt said he would like to see the housing search site taken over, either at a city or university level, so that it can be updated and actually be a useful resource for students.

Another option to help with the search for apartments might be a barcode system. Hewitt said that Jim Hunt, of Sunnyside Up, had mentioned a system where barcodes would be placed on mailboxes or front doors of apartments. Students could then scan that barcode on their phones, it would take them to a database that would list who to contact about the apartment, number of bedrooms, amenities and if it had been rented for the next year, among other things.

So has Hewitt experienced any problems with a landlord? Well, his landlord is his father. When he moved to Morgantown, he and his father went into house after house, each one dilapidated. Some had see-through floor boards, some had slanted floors, others has poor roofing. They decided to purchase a property and fix it up, which was not that simple.

Hewitt said it was a “nightmare” dealing with the city to make upgrades to the property. He and his father had to replace the foundation, tear off the back of the house and put in new insulation and wiring. It took around 25 permits, totaling approximately $500, for the entire project.

That may explain why many landlords choose to let their properties go instead of making improvements.

“If I could change one thing, instead of getting upset about new construction, I think the city should worry about old construction,” Hewitt said. “There has to be a push for remodeling homes, or it becomes unsafe.”

Along with improving the condition of housing, Hewitt would like to see more cooperation between students and citizens.

Morgantown residents don’t typically consider students as part of the community, Hewitt said.

Neighborhoods like Sunnyside and South Park have students living next door to families, where loud parties aren’t tolerated like they might be in an all-student neighborhood.

“I wish the student body would be more respectful of children sleeping,” Hewitt said.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a student problem, but it’s just an issue of people being inconsiderate. If you have problems with noisy neighbors, you might want to look into the City of Morgantown’s Noise Ordinance. A few interesting parts:

  • “Radios, Musical Instruments and Similar Devices Operating playing or permitting the operation or playing of any radio, television, phonograph, drum, musical instrument, sound amplifier, or similar device which produces, reproduces, or amplifies sound are not to be used between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. the following day in such a manner as to create a noise disturbance across a real property boundary or within a noise sensitive zone.”
  • Yelling, shouting, whistling, hooting or “generally creating a racket” on public right-of-ways or public spaces between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to annoy or disturb the quiet of any persons in any business or residence is a violation.
  • The use of drums in general within the city seems to be a violation – “Drums – The use of any drum or other instrument or device for the purpose of attracting attention by creation of noise to any performance, show or sale.”

As a drummer, that last one hurts my heart. But then I think about how loud my neighbors are when they walk up the stairs, so it may not be such a bad thing.

-Leann