The end of March seemed like a perfect time to get away from Ottawa—even for just a few days. The winter was stubbornly resisting its departure, and the brief glimpses of spring were quickly being covered by a fresh layer of cold. When I returned home, excited to get under the warm covers of my bed, you could imagine how shocked I was to step into a freezing, soggy bog of carpet.
It seemed that while I was enjoying my retreat, the bedroom of my basement apartment had flooded. I was gone for only a few days, yet this water intrusion permeated the majority of my bedroom. Great! This is exactly what I wanted to come home to at 5:00 a.m.!
How my landlord reacted
My landlord arrived shortly thereafter, at around 10:00 a.m. to check out my flooded bedroom. Armed with a shop-vac, he quickly began to suck up all of the flood water. Two shop-vacs full of water and a handshake later, he said farewell. In fact, he told me everything was “good to go,” and that if there was ever another flood, to give him a call. That was it!
First of all, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by his response time. Almost every day in my job at Mold Busters, I speak to clients who are dealing with lazy landlords who literally drag their feet to get things done. In that regard, I was impressed with my landlord’s speedy response. However, based on my experience working at Mold Busters, I knew there was a bigger issue at hand.
Sign 1: Wall discoloration and deterioration
Before my landlord packed up his truck and ventured off into the Land of the Lords, I asked him to come back to the room. I pulled back the carpet to reveal some heavily discoloured carpet tack around the area that had been most affected by the flood. Also, the baseboard just peeled off the wall with little effort.
When I pointed this out to him, he told me it was “completely normal,” and that every basement had this problem. Sure…this is perfectly normal, I said to myself.
Sign 2: Aeration holes
I then asked him about these curious holes drilled at the bottom of the drywall, hidden behind the baseboard. I knew, from completing various water restoration certification courses, that this is a common method of drying moisture-laden materials behind drywall. The presence of these holes is, therefore, indicative of previous flooding.
To my amazement, Mr. Landlord was oblivious to the holes, claiming they must have been part of the original drywall installation! I was floored. Was this guy for real? This is when my initial concern morphed into a legitimate worry.
Clearly, there was a history of flooding in this room. That carpet tack was way too discoloured to be the by-product of a single water intrusion, and those holes in the drywall showed me that attempts had been made in the past to dry out an earlier flood. All of the signs pointed to the likelihood of serious mold growth.
When I shared my concerns about a potential mold problem with my landlord, he dismissed them immediately, since there were no visible signs (i.e. no black spots) anywhere. But I knew this ordeal was far from over.
He told me to peel the carpet back, and let the concrete dry for a few days. Once that was done, he would come back, clean the carpets, and then allow me to live happily ever after. I decided to indulge him and document every correspondence I had with him from that day onward.
Camping out on a mattress in my living room was fun, for the first few days, but towards the 20th day, I was beginning to get irate. In addition to my landlord wanting to let the concrete dry (which took about two weeks), he also wanted to wait until the snow thawed, to make sure another flood didn’t happen before he put the carpet back and cleaned it.
Sign 3: Musty odours
During this time, I had a little pow-wow with my landlord and his brother—a drywall expert. About one week had elapsed since the flood, and the smell in my bedroom (as well as in the rest of the basement apartment) was terrible. I knew this smell all too well unfortunately…it was musty and moldy.
So, my landlord and his brother arrived to dispute my concerns about a mold problem. The drywall expert’s sense of smell seemed to have eroded, as he assured me there was no smell present, implying that it was all in my head. Both of them aggressively attempted to persuade me, in the most condescending manner, that there was no mold in this room, and that the drywall was in perfect condition.
I explained to them that I wanted the drywall and carpet removed, as this is a standard practice whenever there is a flood (to prevent mold growth). This, apparently, was not in their budget, and they arrived with the intent of not making this happen.
*It’s important to note here that I did disclose to them that I worked for Mold Busters, a company that deals with these situations every single day. I wanted to see how they were going to handle this.
It quickly became clear as the crystal sun that nothing was going to be done about the problem, and that they were unwilling to even entertain the possibility of mold growth being a reality in this room.
Sign 4: Air test results
Finally, on the 20th day of my camping out in the living room, and no signs of anything being done, I gave my landlord a call and asked to get an air quality test done in the bedroom. I needed to know, for my own peace of mind, that there was no mold in the room before I moved back in. He refused.
Living on a budget can be difficult, especially when unexpected events like floods take place. They require immediate attention, but with my landlord refusing to pay for an air quality assessment and refusing to acknowledge my legitimate concerns about mold growth, I decided to pay for the air testing myself.
Although it was an additional expense that I wasn’t too thrilled about, I’m glad I did it. The results of the air quality test revealed high levels of toxigenic mold spores in my bedroom. According to Health Canada’s Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality, the bedroom warranted standard mold remediation prior to re-occupancy.
Armed with this information, and a full report from Mold Busters, I approached my landlord yet again, insisting that something be done. Naturally, my landlord was skeptical and tried to downplay the situation. Standing firm, however, I indicated to my landlord that he had a legal responsibility to ensure I was living in a safe environment, and that, as a result of the mold, this wasn’t the case.
He agreed to follow the recommendations, but wanted to do the work himself (in order to save a few pennies). I explained that I would do the work with him so that I could ensure that everything got done properly.
At this point, I thought to myself, If I didn’t work at Mold Busters, and didn’t have any clue about these types of issues, what would happen? How many people are dealing with similar scenarios, and are bullied by their landlords into believing that everything is okay? How many people are living in unsafe, unhealthy environments as a result of a landlord’s ignorance and/or negligence?
In my experience interacting with clients who have been in these types of predicaments, I knew they had no resources to guide them through these ordeals and ensure the results are favourable for everyone involved. If only there was a template for people to follow, and experienced guides to lead them through the soggy path… (more on that to come!)
Remediation and restoration
As part of the remediation work, all of the carpet was removed, as was a 2-foot high perimeter of drywall around the exterior walls.
Just as I had originally suspected, those holes at the base of the drywall were made because of a previous flood in the room. The insulation had been removed, and the framing for the drywall had been replaced with new wood.
Additionally, substantial amounts of efflorescence (white salt residues) were now visible on the concrete wall and floor, indicating moisture issues.
In the end, the cause of the water intrusion was found to be an eavestrough drain that was improperly directing water towards the wall, allowing it to leak through the foundation wall. Once this was explained to my landlord, he fixed the issue.
He also removed all of the materials in my bedroom; however, I insisted on taking over the disinfection process, since I had no confidence that he would hire someone to do it properly.
In three days, everything was done, and new floor tiles and drywall were to be installed. To my horror, my landlord actually tried to re-install the same piece of water-damaged drywall that we had just removed a few days ago! I was beyond bewildered. The drywall, according to him and his expert brother, was still good. Well, I wasn’t having any of that. I, personally, threw out that old piece of drywall while he went to Home Depot to buy a new one!
Finally, a little over a month later, the problem was resolved—a problem that should have been resolved immediately. Furthermore, had I not been directly involved in every step of this process, I would not currently be sleeping in a healthy bedroom environment.
My landlord, like most, is an expert in cutting corners, although I must say that he was pretty responsive and did a lot more than the ones I’ve heard about from clients. However, his lack of experience, coupled with his desire to save as much money as possible, could have cost me my health.
Consultation services for tenants
It’s important for tenants to know that there is nothing wrong with insisting that landlords provide a healthy and safe living environment. When these situations arise, tenants need to know what to do.
It’s equally important to have knowledgeable experts–like those at Mold Busters–present every step of the way, looking out for your best interest and making sure that everything is done right. Many vital steps can be missed by landlords or contractors when dealing with floods or mold issues. It’s vital to have qualified experts oversee the entire process.
As a result, Mold Busters is now offering Consultation Services for Tenants. This service includes subsidized pricing for air quality tests and mold inspections, detailed reports of test results, and professional advice for dealing with landlords, insurance companies and adjusters.
Our goal, as always, is to protect what’s most important, and we believe that everybody has a right to live in a clean, healthy environment!