Tenants say mold problems persist at Winterport apartment complex

Tenants say mold problems persist at Winterport apartment complex

Source: Bangor Daily News, Bangor, ME, December 4, 2006
By: Walter Griffin

Residents of the Village Heritage apartments feel they are struggling for every breath.

For the most part elderly and on fixed incomes, the residents have been battling a mold problem in the building for years and have become increasingly worried that the problem is not going to be corrected.

“All we want to do is live naturally,” said Margaret Whittier, motioning to a thrumming air purifier on a nearby end table. “That’s the only thing we have to keep us from coughing. If they would just do something to keep us from coughing.”

According to Thomas A Maxfield Jr., director of management for Liberty Management of Portland, the owner of the complex, the mold problem appears to be one of design and location.

Maxfield said the apartment building’s full basement has a tendency to collect water, as does the ground around the building’s perimeter. A wet month like November only exacerbates the problem.

“The goal with mold is you’ve just got to get the water out of the building,” Maxfield said last week. “The perimeter drains and floor drains have all been cleared, and we have dehumidifiers in the basement. Everyone would like to have an immediate resolution, but there is no immediate resolution. A wet building is just that; it’s a difficult situation.”

The 16-unit complex was built in 1974, and Liberty Management has owned it since the late 1980s. The company has 48 apartment buildings around the state; Village Heritage and two others are the only ones with full basements, Maxfield said.

Maxfield said basement storage areas for the individual units had played a part in the problem because old furniture and bedding kept there also collected moisture.

A walk through the basement last week revealed a small area of standing water in one corner of the building, clusters of mold on parts of the floor and a musty odor of dampness. A few old, damp cushions leaned against a wall.

“We think it’s [the mold] coming up through the floor and is in the rugs, but we can’t get them to pull them up,” said Arthur Whittier, Margaret’s son and next-door neighbor. “I know it’s up here now, but I can’t prove it. What I can prove is that something’s got to be done for the people here.”

Whittier recently purchased a home testing kit at Home Depot that indicated the presence of mold, but the agency that oversees the subsidized apartments does not recognize its results, he said.

Ellie Langway has lived with the problem for seven years and, along with Margaret Whittier, raised her concerns with the town three years ago.

Town Manger Philip Pitula said the town has been in frequent contact with Liberty Management. He said getting the problem solved was a top priority.

“It’s a big drainage problem they have, and they have been working on the problem,” Pitula said of Liberty Management. “I’ve been working with them, and they have been doing some things. They’re not ignoring the problem; they’re just having a difficult time fixing it. I know it’s kind of frustrating to the tenants because it’s been so long. Sometimes getting a big ship to right itself takes time.”

Like the Whittiers, Langway and some other residents also have purchased portable air-purifying devices. Langway said they carry the units to their bedrooms at night and living rooms during the day.

“If you take them from one room to another you can breathe pretty good,” she said.

Langway said that whenever she goes away for a few days, her problems seem to go away. The minute she returns home, however, her problems come back.

“I leave and go out and my eyes feel better and I can breathe,” she said. “I’m not 15 minutes inside my door and my eyes start burning and I can’t breathe. My doctor said there wasn’t anything he could do except for me to move.”

Margaret Whittier said she was not going to leave the home she has known for 15 years. She said she will continue to complain until the problem is resolved, noting that just because she is getting on in years does not mean she doesn’t have any fight left in her.

“If we want to live here we’ve got to fight, and it’s too bad you have to fight to get things done,” she said. “When you get to our age we shouldn’t have to be talking to anybody about these things. Our kids want us to move, but I don’t want to give in; I love my home. I don’t usually complain, but I think this has gone too far.”

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