Melanie Payne,column Tell Mel
1:10 A.M. — Walk into Christopher Dye’s Fort Myers apartment and the smell of mold bowls you over.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Dye said, noticing my discomfort.
Dye had called me a week earlier to say the property manager at Waterford Apartments wouldn’t get rid of that mold in his apartment.
Dye and his fiancee, Lacretia Lias, have lived in the ground-floor apartment on Central Avenue with their daughters Kenzie, 9, and Revelia, 3, since July. They noticed mold on the ceiling two weeks into their lease, but though management sprayed it, the problem remained, Dye said.
The situation became serious, Dye said, when Kenzie, who has asthma, started to wake up during the night, wheezing.
Dye wanted to break the lease. But not only did he not have money to move, he was afraid the landlord would sue, he said.
I couldn’t believe management didn’t want to fix this. But when the property manager didn’t answer my calls, I told Dye to contact code enforcement. And I called Albert Batista of Legal Aid Service of Collier County to see what options this family had.
“Breaking the lease is a last resort,” said Batista, a housing law attorney.
Some leases give the landlord the opportunity to move the tenant to another unit or hotel until the problem is resolved, he said.
Still, “if they gave the landlord a seven-day notice of these problems and they were not fixed, it could be seen as the landlord breaking the lease,” Batista said.
Dye quickly put his complaint in writing, mailing one copy to the owner, Cortland Realty Partners of Clearwater, and giving another to the manager.
And he called code enforcement.
I don’t know which of those actions worked, but Dye and his landlord reached a compromise.
Debbie Hebden, who owns Cortland, said Dye and Lias could either move into a one-bedroom temporarily until the apartment was fixed, or move into another two-bedroom unit in the complex.
Hebden claims Dye’s apartment is the only one with mold because the family brought it with them when they moved in, and they don’t use their air conditioner.
Michael Titmuss, the chief code enforcement manager for the city of Fort Myers, said sometimes residents are responsible for mold growth, but not in this case. The inspector said it’s due to water from the second floor.
Not running the AC could help the mold grow, said Kent Macci, regional representative for environmental health with the Florida Department of Health.
Macci hasn’t seen Dye’s apartment, but he said when mold grows in a straight line – as it does in Dye’s place – it’s following water.
“And where you have moisture coming into the home, it’s a losing battle until you get that moisture taken care of,” Macci said.
Macci also advises keeping the windows and doors closed so mold spores can’t enter, always running a well-maintained air conditioner and getting a hygrometer, a gauge that measures humidity in the house. Humidity should be 59 percent or lower, he said.
If mold covers more than a 9-square-foot area, Macci said, you need to get a professional mold remediation company to correct the problem. I’m hoping the apartment owners will do that because the mold in this apartment is covering a very large area and is in multiple places.
Unfortunately, this maintenance issue had escalated into the type of landlord-tenant fight that often ends up in court. I’m glad it didn’t, and that the tenants and landlord will work things out.
• John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
• Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
• Microshield Environmental Services, LLC