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Toxic Mold in Westbury, Long Island Apartment Complex Forces Residents to Relocate

Nov 29, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Toxic mold exposure can cause serious health problems as the residents of a Long Island luxury apartment building recently found out. This week, the 21-building Westbury community on Corporate Drive is being cleared of all residents in nearly 400 apartments following reports of mold- and mildew-infested buildings.  Archstone-Smith-a Colorado-based company that developed and manages the complex-discovered catastrophic water damage and must serve formal lease termination notices to residents who will need relocate by March 31, 2008.  Residents, who say they've been reporting water problems to Archstone-Smith since 2005, called the situation outrageous and disgusting, saying they've endured leaky windows and grotesque mold in their home.  Many report that they have been sickened with respiratory ailments.  Building managers considered these isolated problems until an increase in complaints following this year's rains.

Concentrated mold exposure can cause chronic cough, headaches, rashes, dizziness, excessive bruising, and hearing and memory loss.  Black or toxic mold-Stachybotrys chartarum-is pathogenic, produces spores called mycotoxins, and can inhibit DNA and protein synthesis in mammalian cells, obstructing body functions.  Toxic mold severely sickens people and pets and is a leading cause of "sick building syndrome."

Moisture leaked into the inner walls at the Westbury luxury apartment complex, soaking insulation, and potentially compromising interior mechanical systems and structural safety.  Hempstead officials said their inspections ensure compliance with state safety and structural codes and could not have detected design flaws or problems leading to water damage. Archstone oversaw construction and says it is too soon to tell whether shoddy construction or design defects are to blame.  Town and county officials said they met with Archstone last week and were trying to help relocate residents.  Tenants say Archstome painted over damage-such as water stains-instead of correcting problems.  Archstone denied this, claiming the company addresses problems immediately.  Town inspectors checked the Westbury complex Tuesday for structural damage and reported the complex is safe for tenants in the interim, but an electrical inspection is needed to ensure water had not damaged internal wiring. Archstone said the problem affected all 20 buildings and residents would receive one month's relocation assistance and an additional stipend between $1,300 to $1,900.  Renovations would take about a year; Archstone could not guarantee all tenants would be able to move back into their units. Archstone did not test for mold because there is no governmental standard for mold levels.  Health officials say mold is considered homeowners and landlord responsibility adding that, if caught and resolved early, there are no issues.

This is not the first time that the Westbury luxury apartment manager has gotten in trouble for toxic mold.  In 2003, Archstone-Smith agreed to pay $25 million to 800 tenants of a Florida complex for health-related issues resulting from a toxic mold.  Archstone owns or is an owner in 350 properties-89,000 units-nationwide and claims Westbury's problems are not consistent with Florida's where the issue was due to a faulty HVAC [heating ventilation and air conditioning] system.

Long Island's increasing problems with mold can be blamed on dampness, especially in basements of older structures; however, codes require newer buildings to be airtight, thus moisture can be trapped and mold can grow. Mold and dampness are factors in 21 percent of asthma cases, cost the nation $3.5 billion yearly in health care expenses, and increase the risk of respiratory- and asthma-related illnesses by 30 to 50 percent.


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