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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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 Student Legal Services offers help with numerous off-campus housing issues

Students who are having issues with their leases or landlords may feel like they have no option for help since they can’t afford a lawyer. However, West Virginia University’s Student Legal Services can help students with their problems at no extra charge.

Legal services are included as part of students’ fees, so you can’t really refer to the assistance as being free, but students don’t have to pay anything else when they receive help.

Student Legal Services is located in the basement of E. Moore Hall on the Downtown Campus. It’s kind of hidden, but there are plenty of signs to lead students there.

I spoke with Carrie Showalter, attorney for students, and Brian Walker, community coordinator with the Office of Student Life.

Throughout the school year, Showalter said there are varying trends of why students visit the office. During the beginning of the year they’ll be seeking help with maintenance issues. Toward the beginning of the spring semester is usually when students start bringing leases in for review. Near the end of the school year and summer, there’s many issues with security deposits.

Here are a few of the most popular services students seek:

Lease review – Showalter said students can bring in copies of leases before they are signed to make sure they understand them. She stressed that if a landlord says they will repair or replace something before the tenant moves in, that needs to be in writing on the lease before it is signed.

Move-in and move-out checklists – Students need to document what things are damaged in the apartment within 5-10 days of signing the lease. This can be problematic because most students sign leases months before actually moving in. Showalter said the students should do a walk-through after signing the lease so the landlord can’t keep a security deposit to repair something that was broken before the student moved in.

Utility bills – Showalter said she sees many students come in with utility overcharges. Sometimes it may be an issues with a leak, and they can help the students look into what is causing the unexpected increase.

Security deposit issues – Students can seek help if they believe it’s taking too long to get their deposit back after moving out or if they think they weren’t given back enough money.

Student Legal Services will contact landlords on behalf of students and have also represented students in magistrate court, Showalter said. Sometimes it may take one meeting to solve an issue, and sometimes it’s taken as long as 18 months.

One landlord, who Showalter didn’t name, was renting out apartments he didn’t own. Students paid their first month rent and security deposit and then found someone already living there when they attempted to move. The same landlord also double rented some apartments he did own; for example, someone may have signed a lease that ran from May until May, but the person currently living in there had signed a lease that wasn’t up until August.

Showalter confirmed that bedbugs are definitely an issue in Morgantown, as I previously reported. She’s dealt with two cases involving bed bugs – one at a small house and one at a large housing complex.

It’s difficult to identify a source when it comes to bed bugs, Showalter said. They can be brought in by someone who has traveled, but it’s difficult to prove that. If they are unable to prove that a student brought them in, it is typically considered the property owner’s responsibility to fix the problem.

In both cases Showalter dealt with, the landlords took care of the bed bugs, which is an expensive and lengthy process. Exterminators usually require a one-year contract to completely get rid of the bed bugs, she said.

The other buzz word in off-campus housing – mold – wasn’t really an issue until this year, Showalter said. Now, she sees students who are both having serious mold issues and those who are trying to use it as an excuse to break their lease.

I have a lot more information from my talk with Showalter and Walker. In the next post, I’ll discuss more about what type of assistance WVU’s Off-Campus Housing department can offer.

– 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 1

West Virginia University’s Student Government Association is an elected group that “serves as the student’s direct voice to the WVU administration,” according to the group’s website.

The SGA meets 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday in the Mountainlair Hatfields B Room. These meetings are open to students so that they can voice their concerns.

The SGA is comprised of a board of governors and executive officers. Executive officers are in charge of different areas that affect students such as:

  • Student Organizations
  • Off-Campus Housing
  • Greek Liaisons
  • Recruitment and Retention
  • International Student Liaison
  • Diversity
  • Wellness
  • Athletics
  • Neighborhood Associations
  • Residential Affairs
  • Safety
  • Transportation

Obviously the most relevant person to talk to for this blog is the director of off-campus housing, Earl Hewitt. Hewitt is a junior engineering major from Indiana, Pa. He’s also a licensed Real  Estate salesman in Pennsylvania, so he’s very familiar with housing issues.

Last week, I met with Hewitt to discuss what he thinks are some of the biggest issues with off-campus housing.

He said there are two main problems with off-campus student housing in Morgantown:

  1. mold
  2. bed bugs

Let’s talk about mold first – the reason it is such an issue is that there’s no legislature on it here like in other states. Hewitt said only five states have mold-related legislation at this time.

Students want to break leases over mold, he said. But because there’s no legislation, they are having to move home for health reason and still pay rent because their landlords won’t remove the mold. While there’s no link to mold causing diseases, exposure to large amounts can cause illnesses.

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, indoor mold can trigger allergies or allergy-like symptoms in the upper respiratory system. The most common symptoms are:

  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Cough
  • Wheezing/breathing difficulties
  • Sore throat
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Upper respiratory infections (including sinus infections)

Over the past four months, Hewitt has been working with Carrie Showalter of WVU Student Legal Services and Nancy Key of Environmental Health & Safety (Environmental Health and Safety Specialist, Indoor Air Quality) to write legislature related to mold and trying to contact delegates.

Now on to bed bugs – the reason this can be a problem is that it’s quite an expensive problem to fix, especially if the place is already furnished, Hewitt said. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, to remove bed bugs, you must “heat infested articles and/or areas through to at least 113 ºF (45 ºC) for 1 hour. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time needed to kill bed bugs at all life stages.”

And because I’m getting itchy writing about it, I feel it’s only fair that I show you what an adult bed bug looks like.

(photo from http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/housingandclothing/dk1022.html)

There’s also a bed bug registry to find out if there’s been infestations in specific areas or even hotels.

If you live in Morgantown, have you experienced any issues with mold or bed bugs? Please comment and let me know!

Hewitt had many interesting things to say about the quality of housing in Morgantown, but I’m going to save that for the next post. Please check back!

-Leann