Residents and condo board are at odds over handling of mold report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the contracting company as Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. instead of Paramount Disaster Recovery, LLC. There is a Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. The companies are not connected.
Ormond Heritage, a 156-unit condominium on 1 John Anderson Drive, was damaged during Hurricane Matthew nearly eight months ago, and the board association still hasn’t been able to get its overlapping insurance agencies to start covering the damage. Now, there may be an even bigger problem: mold.
During one inspection by an agent from an Atlanta-based insurance company called Ariel, the presence of a black and green substance was discovered in a wall at Ormond Heritage. AirQuality Assessors, based in Orlando, took samples and sent them to a laboratory certified by the state of Florida. The mold was identified as stachybotrys, which is extremely toxic and dangerous to humans.
The units in the condominium were tested during a four-day period, and, according to Board President Dr. Frank Farmer, every floor has some areas that have been affected. He has expertise on the subject as a physician and former surgeon general for the state of Florida.
In April, a meeting was held by the contractor, Paramount Disaster Recovery LLC, led by Joe Radcliff, and residents said they were told to vacate immediately, wrap their clothes in plastic bags and take them to dry cleaners, telling the cleaners the clothes had been infected with toxic mold spores and must be treated as dangerous. Residents said there were masks in the lobby for them to wear to return to their units to grab any necessities they might need.
Farmer and his wife, Peggy, have temporarily moved out of the Ormond Heritage for their medical well-being and are encouraging other residents to do the same. The mold is dangerous for anyone, and specifically for those with respiratory issues and weakened immune systems.
A time frame has not been given to residents for the entire remediation and construction process, which will involve all three “stacks,” or towers, simultaneously, but Radcliff said it could take a year to 18 months to do all of the work and bring the condominium complex up to code.
When asked whether residents should be expected to leave their condos for 12-18 months, Radcliff said that in past projects he had been able to apply for permits to construct temporary walls while the outside work was being done and, combined with air scrubbers, allowed residents to stay in their units. He is hopeful the same thing can be done at Ormond Heritage.
But not all residents are convinced.
Questioning the mold report
Some residents who attended the April meeting described it as “frightening” and “a scare tactic.” Some, like the Farmers, moved out, but others decided to stay and have their own testing done, doubting the authenticity of the previous lab results.
Jerry Cutter and his wife, Cecilia, live in the south building, like the other residents interviewed for this story, and said AirQuality Assessors and their own company contracted for a second opinion, tested for mold and air quality, and each time their units “tested dry.” The Cutters believe that even though there may be mold, it must not be at levels that would be harmful to people’s health or require people to move out.
Although the mold is not visible, AirQuality Assessors owner Ritchie Kidwell said it was discovered by drilling into walls in the condos and should be taken seriously.
Farmer agrees. “We have had multiple meetings, seven meetings in four days,” he said. “People are in denial. They think it’s safe for the mold to be in the walls.”
Farmer encourages residents to contact the property manager or call AirQuality Assessors at 407-233-0493 or email [email protected].
Access to condos
Another reason the Cutters decided to stay put is that they don’t want anyone coming into their condo without their permission.
Signs have been taped to some condo doors at Ormond Heritage, citing state code, to inform people to stay out of their residences — specifically to keep the Paramount Disaster Recovery LLC contractors out.
Radcliff said all residents are being given advanced notice when contractors need access to a unit, but the Cutters' 86-year-old neighbor said she returned from doing some errands to find her apartment had been entered and sealed with a heavy plastic zippered wall, and all of her furniture had been covered.
Fixing the roof
Although not everyone agrees on the mold issue, there does seem to be agreement on the necessity of fixing the roof. The roof of the eight-floor condominium was shredded during Hurricane Matthew and is expected to cost $5 million to $7 million to replace, according to Farmer.
But that work that cannot be done until the insurance claim is accepted. Eight months after Matthew, there is still a patchwork of blue tarps covering some of the roof's sections, but the soaked walls combined with the Florida heat are providing a breeding ground for mold.
Meanwhile, Farmer has contacted the Florida Department of Financial Services and the commissioner of insurance for the state in an attempt to get insurance money to get the repair process started.
Farmer and Radcliff said the complications with insurance have been frustrating.
“They have requested everything from board meeting notes for the past five years to maintenance records,” Farmer said. “Since Hurricane Matthew, we have been struggling with the insurance company to even recognize that we have a claim.”
Addressing the mold issue is a distraction right now, according to Cutter. “In my opinion, the roof needs to be repaired first.”
Radcliff said he agrees the 3-year-old roof must be addressed but said the insurance companies are not moving forward in a timely manner to pay the claim.
“I’ve never seen anything done by a carrier to this extreme,” Radcliff said. “We are likely filing a lawsuit within 30 days against the insurance companies and the independent adjustment company they hired.”
Rose and Bob Declercq lives in the north stack and, like many, stayed put during Hurricane Matthew.
“This building was really strong, and I’m just really pleased,” Rose Declercq said.
Within 10 days of Matthew, the board called a meeting and introduced Radcliff and Paramount, which now has a construction trailer in the north parking lot between the post office and church. Although the roof was damaged, it seemed that the problems were being addressed. Then the mold warnings started coming, and life seems to be in disarray.
“Bob and I worked hard all our lives; we saved, we put money away, we planned for our retirement,” Declercq said. “We’re here and we think, 'Oh God, we’re in heaven. We have this lovely condo, beautiful spot, we love it here. Our Social Security and pension is enough to pay our bills.' And then this happens?”