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Insurers say they are
getting socked with claims on homeowners' insurance for mold damage in
unprecedented numbers. State Farm, for instance, said the number of claims
jumped from 90 in 2000 to 337 in 2001.
can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, so we're talking about more
than the cost of Lysol to spray on shower tiles.
homeowners, regulators and state legislators are debating who will be
financially responsible for mold damage, under what circumstances insurers
should be liable and whether it is fair to put dollar limits on such
has swelled into a big financial issue in the last few years in other
states that, like
complain their mold infestations often started in hard-to-detect places,
behind walls on the backside of plasterboard, under carpets. Sometimes,
the mold spills out to an interior wall through cracks.
get really bad when the mold reaches a home's air-handling system and hops
a ride to the living quarters. People in mold-contaminated homes complain
of allergies, headaches, and more serious ailments, such as breathing
problems and memory loss.
recommend building materials like plasterboard be thrown out when they are
infected with mold: It's just impossible to eradicate the mold from a
cost of handling mold claims in
insurance companies in this state have asked the Florida Department of
Insurance to cap the amount they have to pay on mold claims at $10,000.
mold damage in
if a pipe inside a wall develops a leak onto plasterboard and triggers a
mold infestation you're on your own.
insurance department, which regulates carriers in
Hekker, a homeowner from
house sits in a community built in the 1950s overlooking Siesta Key. ``It
was the view that settled my soul,'' she said.
years, the property was fine. Drainage ditches carried moisture away from
the house, she said. Then, she said, some changes were made to neighboring
properties in the early '90s that funneled storm water onto her property.
``I get all the flooding for the entire community,'' she said.
started getting the water damage in late 1993. Mold followed into the wall
behind her den. She argued with her insurer, State Farm, over the claim.
State Farm, she said, wouldn't pay, citing alterations on adjacent
properties as a complication causing the flooding.
insurer then dropped her, forcing Hekker into the state-run pool that is
operated for people who can't get property insurance on the private
market. Her insurance cost went up from $750 a year to $4,000, she said,
with a $2,500 deductible.
hasn't been able to get a solution to what she sees as the original cause
of the problem, alterations to the neighboring flood control mechanisms.
State Farm declined to comment on the dispute.
Hekker still has exterior repairs to make as a result of flooding. She has
replaced the wall and tile floor in the affected area twice at her own
cost, which she estimated at about $5,000.
the mold comes back because of continued exposure to moisture, she said,
causing her to have headaches. Her adult son cannot visit the home because
his throat seems to close up, she said.
can't sell this house,'' she lamented, because no one would want it with
the problems. Real estate agents must disclose problems with properties,
thinks her experience will be repeated in other homes and condominiums by
the water. The structures aren't just in a flood plain, she said, they're
in ``a mold plain.''
also joined a national consumer group, called Policyholders of America (www.policyholdersofamerica.org federal levels
for laws setting standards for mold issues.
Plead Their Case
insurance industry is not taking the criticisms lying down. Company
representatives correctly point out that mold can result from many causes.
mold sometimes follows an event insurance will cover, like strong wind or
a rainstorm. But mold also can follow leakage caused by a construction
defect, such as a gap between the roof and the walls or the wall and the
floor, or just poor roof maintenance such as inattention to leaks.
argue they shouldn't be stuck with the financial responsibilities for
homeowners' insurance shouldn't be confused with health insurance, said
Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute.
a tree crashes through your window and breaks your leg, the homeowner's
insurance only covers the repairs to your home, not your limb, he said.
he questioned whether these policies ought to be responsible for the
health effects of mold. Hartwig, like others in the insurance industry,
contends health claims are being magnified by the media and exaggerated by
attorneys who sue insurance carriers.
homeowners with claims are seeking help. Some turn to public adjusters,
who prepare a claim and often deal with the insurance company's adjuster.
goal is to secure a larger payout than the homeowner would have alone. The
adjuster is paid a percentage of the claim.
is absolutely a big deal, it's a hot topic,'' said Charles R. ``Dick''
Tutwiler, owner of Tutwiler & Associates, a
The Cleanup Industry
isn't the only challenge for homeowners with mold problems.
cleanup industry has emerged, but in
vary widely for in-home air testing, said Wolfgang Paltian, owner of Air
Quality Environmental Inc. in
scientifically accepted practice is for a tester to get a comparison of
the mold indoors and the mold outdoors before determining a house has a
look for a real big gap between inside and outside,'' said Paltian,
meaning the inside mold count is much higher.
suggest consumers hire one company to test the air and, if needed, another
company to handle the cleanup. It can be considered a conflict of interest
if the same company that tests your home is the one that says you need a
$20,000 repair job, which is not unusual.
need to be aware of the company they are hiring,'' said Brian L'Hommedieu,
owner of Fort Myers-based MicrOscope Inc. which specializes in mold
not regulated by state license,'' he said. ``I wish we were. It would
separate the men from the boys; it's not carpet cleaning.''
want to make sure they have some training,'' said Nehrig, a senior
environmental manager for OHC Environmental Engineering Inc. in
will see different kinds of certifications from various industry groups.
was trained by the Indoor Air Quality Association as a certified mold
remediator. The trade group, based in
designation as a certified indoor air quality professional came from the
Association of Energy Engineers, based in
is no one common course of study. That makes it important to check
references, Nehrig said.
this field of so many complexities and differing opinions, there is one
agreement: Fix leaks quickly.
you've had a moisture intrusion, the faster you address it, the less
likely it is that mold will grow,'' said L'Hommedieu.
Jo-Ann Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7804.
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