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Mold infested rental in Largo forces mother, 2 children to abandon furniture, toys and home

Florida lacks mold regulations for rentals
I-Team mold infestation Jess Lazer.png
Posted at 5:34 AM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 18:37:41-04

LARGO, Fla. — A North Carolina woman and her two little boys moved to Tampa Bay hoping for a better life. But days after moving into a Largo apartment they discovered a danger that led them to leave their new home and all they owned. The I-Team found the law does little to protect renters in these cases.

Jess Lazer moved to Florida to take a good-paying tech job and fulfill her dream of a better life for her young sons. She rented a unit at Somerset Apartments in Largo in late December after she said management sent her a video of the unit.

Lazer said she knew something was wrong when, within days of her move, she began getting puffing eyes, hives, and a stuffy nose.

She found what appeared to be black mold on the floors and a wall and complained to management. A crew ripped up the vinyl flooring and Lazer found black spots covering the concrete in the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

The I-Team asked certified mold expert Michael Rubino to look at the photos Lazer provided to ABC Action News. Rubino, author of “The Mold Medic,” said the floors appear to be covered in black mold which could cause health problems.

“Anytime you have too much particulate that enters the body you are going to feel some adverse health reactions,” Rubino said.

Lazer’s doctor wrote a letter stating that there was a correlation between black mold exposure and her asthma and headaches. The property management notified Lazer that their own tests found " health risk, but in an abundance of caution we will have remediation for moisture performed."

Mold infestation at Laser home
Molded floors inside the Laser home

Somerset Apartments offered Lazer and her boys another unit in a different building. The I-Team asked Rubino to inspect that apartment as well. He found black mold in both the bathroom, one of the bedrooms and on some of the family’s furniture. He advised the family to get rid of their beds, upholstered furniture and most of the boys' toys.

Rubino told the I-Team, “anything like a fabric couch for instance cannot be effectively cleaned and unfortunately has to be discarded.”

According to a National Institutes of Health study, molds can cause respiratory symptoms and asthma. Another study found a connection between prolonged indoor mold exposure and decreased cognitive development in children under age six.

Lazer said she feared for her family's health. She left the second apartment and their potentially contaminated furniture and personal items behind.

The I-Team found there is little recourse under state and local laws for tenants living with mold. Pinellas County Code Enforcement's Division Manager Jude Reazin said his office often fields complaints from tenants about mold infestations but, he said, the county doesn’t have an ordinance specific to mold.

The state also doesn't offer protections for renters when it comes to mold.

Martin Lawyer, who specializes in landlord-tenant issues with Bay Area Legal Services, said under Florida law renters like the Lazers have only one legal remedy, and that’s in the courts.

“The only effective way to make a landlord fix anything in Florida is to file a lawsuit,” Lawyer said.

Lazer hired an attorney but hasn't filed suit. When the I-Team asked Somerset Apartments about her case, the corporate office responded in a statement saying, “Our attorney is working with Ms. Lazer’s counsel to resolve this matter.”

Laser home with molded floors in the bathroom
Jessica Laser's home with molded floors in the bathroom

Lazer recently sent the I-Team the results of air and surface mold testing she paid to have done by a certified mold inspection company. We asked Rubino to analyze the results and he said the tests confirmed heavy toxic mold in both apartments.

Experts advise renters to never sign a contract for a unit until they’ve had a chance to inspect it. 

How to spot mold:

  • Look for signs of water damage on walls or ceilings 
  • Check tubs and shower areas for visible mold
  • Check sink cabinets for water damage 
  •  Check around air handler for signs of mold

How to safely remove mold:

  1. Wear an N95 respirator to prevent inhalation of mold as you clean. 
  2. Avoid using bleach to remove mold; updated science suggests bleach does not remove mold effectively. Use hydrogen peroxide as an alternative or use a botanical disinfectant spray and apply it to the mold.
  3. Remove the mold with microfiber towels, discarding the towel after use.

If you still see signs of mold after completing those steps, it means the mold's roots (called hyphae) have penetrated the material it was growing on. This will require safe and proper removal of the building material itself by a certified remediation company following state guidelines.

When looking to hire a mold remediation business, ask to see that they are licensed as a mold assessor or mold remediator by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. You can look up a contractor here.