A landlord and his tenant claim construction of the new courthouse caused black mold to form in their building and are seeking $4,000 in compensation from the Project Development Board.
Attorney Natalie Lile rents space from Craig Potts in the Potts building at 226 St. Clair St. She is seeking a $4,000 refund in rent after she had to close her law business for three days, and is expected to close it for three more to remove mold from her office.
“She’s essentially telling me she wants this money back from me, but this is, of course, no wrongdoing of mine,” Potts said at Monday’s meeting. “She did make an issue of it back in September, so I contacted you and we’re still not through with it.”
According to a letter Lile wrote to Potts that was passed out at the meeting, Lile discovered the mold in September after a picture she had hung fell off the wall. The picture had “black, fuzzy spots” on the back, the letter says.
In the letter, Lile says representatives from Codell Construction came over Sept. 7 and “determined that there was black mold inside the wall, that the mold was related to construction activities next door; and they accepted responsibility for correcting the problem.”
But construction manager Bill Bridges said that’s not exactly what happened. He said the mold likely formed after the old courthouse was torn down, exposing the once-dry Potts building wall closest to the courthouse to water and moisture.
“We’re not necessarily accepting responsibility … that we did anything wrong,” Bridges said after the meeting.
“We exposed the brick … and it accepted water, and the water leaked down through there. We don’t know how long the mold’s been there, but the fact is, we made some changes, they got mold, so we said, ‘OK, we’ll fix it.’”
Robert Hewitt, the county’s planning director, hired Chase Environmental Group for about $2,300 to test for mold and conduct an air quality study. The test was done April 11, and results showed that “elevated numbers” of Penicillium (a type of mold) were found in Lile’s office.
A statement from Chase said the mold wasn’t “toxic” but that high levels of Penicillium can cause an allergic reaction.
The test was done seven months after the mold was first discovered, and Bridges and Hewitt both said the wait was due to the construction under way.
“It didn’t seem like there was much sense to go fix it when they were removing sections out there,” Hewitt said.
“As we continued to remove more material, we were exposing more of that wall, so it was like, ‘Well, let’s not fix it yet because we’re not done tearing everything off.’”
The mold was originally thought to be in the bottom half of the wall, but when workers came to remove it in May, they found mold along the inside of the drywall and on the insulation. The entire wall was removed and filled with new insulation and drywall.
Toward the end of construction, Hewitt said “flashing” – essentially metal covering that will shed water – will be put on the outside wall of the Potts building to protect it from gathering moisture.
The removal process took three days, for which Lile had to close her office. She said she was already scheduled to be out of the office then but still had to pay her secretary for days lost.
Workers are scheduled to return next month and continue repairing the wall, so Lile will have to close her office for three more days.
“I just want some kind of compensation for having to close my office and for having to live with the black mold for six months,” Lile told The State Journal at her office Monday.
Lile wrote to Potts that the mold and her having to close her office is a breach of contract. She’s seeking a $4,000 refund in rent charges. Potts was at the Project Development Board meeting Monday to ask about the compensation.
The board took no action because several members were in court or on vacation and it lacked a quorum. The issue will be taken up at the next meeting in July.
Editor's note: This is a corrected version of an earlier article that gave an incorrect location for the damaged wall. We apologize for the error.