Mold: A Common Result of Water Infiltration - Not To Be Ignored04/05/2012 | Spring 2012 Newsletter
Over the last several years, more and more attention has been given to the effects of water infiltration on living conditions, and in particular to the development of toxic substances that grow behind walls, under floors, behind radiators and especially above ceilings.
Companies specializing in testing for, and removing, such substances have become common resources utilized by managing agents and cooperative and condominium boards and the attorneys who represent them. Insurance companies have developed special endorsements to home insurance policies specifically providing for mold remediation, and the New York City Health Department has promulgated regulations requiring removal by qualified personnel when discovered.
Courts have also begun to address claims by individuals who are affected by substances that are discovered in their homes or apartments and left untreated or unremoved. This commonly occurs when a roof leaks, or other water infiltration occurs, and the building owner or management neglects to timely investigate the conditions behind walls, above ceilings and the like.
While the effects on individuals differ by length of exposure and type of bacteria, mold or other fungi, several things are absolutely clear.
If there is a dark environment exposed to moisture, then mold and other substances:
- WILL likely grow;
- will not go away by itself;
- will only get worse over time; and
- must be properly removed by persons experienced and qualified to do so.
Indeed, our firm recently handled a situation in a cooperative apartment where management failed to address the water infiltration that collected under the floor. Subsequently, when the floor boards were lifted, it was discovered that huge amounts of mold spores had actually flowered!
Our firm recently won an appeal in Manhattan in which the appellate court held that a woman could pursue her claims against a building owner for the ill effects she suffered after demolition of the basement below her apartment led to the infiltration of a “cocktail” of nearly a dozen different types of toxic mold and metals. The Court agreed that the scientific community has developed a recognized methodology for analyzing the effects of substances on people’s health, rejected a “numbers” approach requiring a certain amount of bacteria to exist to prove the substances caused the ill effects, and concluded that injured people have a right to prove their claims before a jury.
The practical lesson for individuals who live in apartments, for managing agents, and for cooperative and condominium boards, is to promptly investigate if there is moisture or dampness behind walls, under floors, or above ceilings once water infiltration has occurred. Assumptions should be made that if there is moisture, and if those conditions existed for even a few days, it is possible that something
is growing and needs to be professionally removed. Covering it up with plaster, new paint, or simply ignoring it could adversely affect the health of occupants, and in the long term be infinitely more costly.
Just as you would not leave an ongoing leak unrepaired, you should not leave toxic substances growing in homes unremediated.