Oddo Bill Would Address Mold in Abandoned Houses

Industry Update: On July 26, Silive.com published an article titled Showdown on Mold: Oddo Bill would Address Problem in Abandoned Houses.

Link to proposed bill

Showdown on mold: Oddo bill would address problem in abandoned houses

One of the "gifts" of Hurricane Sandy that keeps on giving is mold. The fungus has plagued even those homeowners who have been able to return to their storm-damaged homes and they've had to do extensive remediation. Many have taken advantage of the $15-million mold-remediation program made possible though the Mayor's Fund partnership.

 But mold has flourished unchecked in those houses that were abandoned or otherwise left vacant for the past eight-plus months.

The question is what to do about them.

Mold spores are everywhere, and can be found in everyday household and workplace dust. But that doesn't mean they are entirely harmless.

 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a June 2006 report about mold problems in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, "Excessive exposure to mold-contaminated materials can cause adverse health effects in susceptible persons regardless of the type of mold or the extent of contamination."

Enough toxin-bearing mold spores in the air can make even healthy people sick. It stands to reason that empty houses can be mold-spore hothouses, and that those proliferating tiny spores eventually pollute the air outside those buildings, not just inside.

But the city Department of Health has doggedly insisted, "Mold in an abandoned home does not generally pose a health risk to neighbors."

That flat-out denial of any public health threat undoubtedly proceeds from the city's policy that, without the owner's involvement, it can do nothing in terms of remediation when it comes to abandoned properties.

In response to the question of what should be done about mold growing in vacant structures, the Health Department answers a question that wasn't asked: "Since the days immediately following the hurricane, the Health Department has been working across agencies to provide information and guidance on the risks of mold and how to safely reconstruct to avoid future mold growth."

Yes, but what about all that mold mushrooming in the scores of abandoned houses in this borough? The city's information outreach and guidance do nothing to solve that problem for affected neighborhoods, whose residents are understandably worried.

Now, Mid-Island Councilman James Oddo, a vocal critic of the Department of Health on this score, wants to strip the city of its excuse to continue to do nothing.

In blasting the department's laissez-faire approach to the blight, he said, "I don't know if mold is a nuisance or mold is a legitimate health threat. I don't know if just exacerbates allergies or has a serious impact on respiratory conditions. I don't know. But I don't want to take the chance. And I want a plan to mitigate these homes."

In addition, he says the mere threat of mold taking over an empty house in a neighborhood affects nearby residents psychologically and emotionally.

His plan comes in the form of City Council legislation that would allow the Health Department to intervene in the case of blighted properties by classifying mold as a public health nuisance. The department could then order the owner, if he or she can be located, to remove it. If the homeowner fails to do so after a certain time period, Mr. Oddo's bill proposes to empower the agency to execute the order to remove the mold.

The lawmaker says his bill "balances public safety and property rights."

We think he's overly concerned about the rights of owners who have walked away from their properties and left their former neighbors to suffer the consequences. Their irresponsibility should cause them to forfeit those rights to some extent.

But we understand he's trying to dot all the i's and cross all the t's, legally speaking, to pinion the reluctant city agency and force it to do its job to protect neighbors of abandoned properties with the same vigor it brings to its effort to ban unhealthy foods and drinks.

If the legislation passes, the department will have no choice but to be proactive with abandoned properties.

Therein lies the rub. The administration has clearly shown it's not interested in this task. Will it reconsider?

Mr. Oddo said, "The end game is to get the Department of Health to acknowledge that this is a concern, and do something about it."

However, he conceded, "If the Department of Health continues to have the mantra and mind-set that mold is not an issue, then the bill isn't worth the paper that it's written on. We need a partner in this."

Will the Department of Health continue to shirk its duty to protect public health in terms of post-Sandy mold? We'll know by how vehemently the administration opposes Mr. Oddo's bill.

To view the online article, please click here.

About Safeguard 
Safeguard Properties is the largest mortgage field services company in the U.S. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and based in Valley View, Ohio, the company inspects and maintains defaulted and foreclosed properties for mortgage servicers, lenders,  and other financial institutions. Safeguard employs approximately 1,700 people, in addition to a network of thousands of contractors nationally. Website: www.safeguardproperties.com.


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