In May 2018, our family moved from Vancouver to Lacombe with the hopes of being able to buy a home in the next few years, something that was not a reality in Vancouver. One year later, we are all sick, homeless and losing everything we own, thanks to the gross negligence of a landlord. We don't like asking for help, but we are desperate and need to humble ourselves to ask and accept help for the sake of our children.
For anyone who doesn't know us, our family consists of myself (Lili), my husband Mike, and our three little boys, Clifford 4, Stockton 2, and Theodor aka Teddy 7 months.
When we decided to move from Vancouver, we settled on the fifth best place in Canada to live, Lacombe AB. Not only did Mike get hired on with a wonderful dealership, the town was so welcoming and friendly, and I was excited to live in a cute little character home. The rent was good, and we were excited to be able to build savings so we could buy our own house and settle down with our boys. Little did we know, by the same time next year, we would all be sick, Teddy in and out of hospital ER rooms, a three day stay at Stollery Children's, and we would be homeless and losing all of our belongings. Everything. All of our savings have been depleted, the money we were gifted to help with a down payment on a home; all gone. We went from having a bright future to being sick with nothing.
Before we rented this house, the landlord told us that it was old. We told him that we didn't care if it was an old house, so long as it was clean and safe. He assured us it was, but we soon found out that was far from the truth. As we rented the house based on some photos and the word of the landlord, when we arrived in May 2018, I was taken aback at the condition of the home. Sloped floors, holes in the walls, no screens on the windows and big open cracks in the windows. We felt a little blindsided, but we didn't have anywhere else to go, so we moved in.
Soon we started noticing some red flags with the house. Bees and wasps were inside, when we asked the landlord, he gave my husband a bag of insulation and a stick and told him to plug the holes in the basement. He never came to check it out himself. When the storms came, our basement flooded, partially due to blocked gutter drains. He had someone fix the gutter, but never came to check out the flooded basement. We should have seen these as red flags, but we figured being the landlord he knew what he was doing.
In October 2018, Teddy was born in the house. Our family was perfect, complete, and we began to adjust to our new life as a family of 5.
In January 2019, the smell of mold in our bathroom was overwhelming, and Mike had found mold on the walls in his closet. We emailed our landlord asking if he had ever had the house tested for mold, he feigned ignorance and did not come to check out the problem. At this time, we started getting chronically ill. All five of us experiencing all sorts of sickness: chronic cough, sore throat, itchy eyes, sinus congestion, brain fog, exhaustion, fatigue, depression, gastrointestinal problems, infections, anxiety, rashes, Teddy had months long "pneumonia" that wasn't bacterial but never went away. At this time, we didn't realize that all this could be happening because of the mold. We chalked it up to our eldest being in playschool and kids being germ factories. Teddy had been in the ER a few times, but we still weren't getting answers. When Mike suggested that Teddy's problems could be because of the mold, our family doctor laughed at him saying, "that's just something your wife heard on the tv, don't believe everything you hear." By this point we were fairly certain the mold was what was making us all sick, but we kept getting told no, and we were frustrated that no one was listening to us.
By the end of March/beginning of April, the mold had gotten worse, as did our symptoms. Teddy's cough and breathing was horrible. I had recurring cold sores and eye infections. Mike had gastrointestinal issues, infections, and rashes. Clifford had serious behavioural issues. Stockton had what we believe to be neurological issues. And no one was listening. It was at this time that we found the mold in Mike's closet was all over, literally all over every single wall. We sent the landlord a photo of it, and it took him weeks to come out to look at it.
At the end of April, I left Lacombe with Teddy for a week in Vancouver to introduce him to friends and family. No one could believe how awful his breathing was. But, after time out of the house, his symptoms started to improve, as did mine. It was while we were away that our landlord finally came in to do mold testing, or so we thought. He simply had the remediator tell Mike to remove his belongings from the closet, to seal up the closet with plastic and they would be back to remediate. At this time Mike again shared all of our health troubles with the landlord but he brushed it off. I emailed the landlord back stating that we would not allow remediation without mold air testing, as we had been so sick and needed to know what we were dealing with before any work could be done. He delayed testing by over a week. He was supposed to have the testing done on May 1, but apparently had an emergency and couldn't do it until the 2nd. When Teddy and I arrived home on the 1st, within 30 minutes all of his symptoms were back, and as I had not been in the house for a week, I was mortified to smell it. All I could smell was rotting. I had not paid the rent on the 1st, as I wanted to speak to the landlord first. On the 2nd, the landlord came with his friend to do the testing. I wanted to speak with him to reiterate the problems we had had from the mold, and how Teddy had been in and out of the hospital, trying to give him the opportunity to be a decent human being, but all he did was roll his eyes and ask when was I paying the rent. I explained again our situation and that we were trying to figure out what to do. He asked if this was me giving notice, I said I would have to talk to my husband as we hadn't found a new home yet. His reply was "well as it's the second, you have to pay until the end of June, as you've got to give a full months notice. Or are you going to break that law?" I was shocked. Here was a mother, imploring her landlord for understanding and kindness, and he couldn't even say he was sorry for what we were going through. Our family's welfare meant less to him than his 965$ a month. He laughed with his friend doing the testing about how they shouldn't be breathing in the air if it comes back with high levels.
Later that night, Teddy's breathing worsened, and Mike took him to the ER where it was found his oxygen was low. The doctor there advised us to not bring Teddy back to the home. We had to return that night, but as of May 3, we were living in a hotel. The landlord did not know this.
The testing should have taken only a few days to come back, but after a week I had not heard from the landlord, so on the 9th I emailed asking for the results. He did not know at this time that we were living in a hotel. He responded that he got the testing back but wanted to retest. I replied asking why, and he ignored me. I emailed the next day asking for the results again, he replied with a list of the molds that were found (4 being the most toxic), but with no levels. I told him I needed to know the levels so I could appropriately help my children. He ignorantly replied that any doctor could help him based on the names of the mold alone. I informed him that that was not true, I mean you can have some arsenic in an apple seed and be fine, but you can have a thousand of them and it'll do damage. Dose is important. I asked if he was unwilling to give us the report, and he ignored me. I begged again the next day for the report, he ignored me. That Sunday, we planned to take Teddy to Stollerys children's hospital for answers, so I emailed the landlord again, begging him as a parent and soon to be grandparent to give me the testing results, and he ignored me. I then emailed the service master guy who did the testing, begging him to give me the results because our landlord wouldn't. Magically within an hour, he finally sent the test results.
Every single floor of the house tested positive for mold at 10-30 times the safe limits. We also discovered that he had had the test results for days before I asked. He thought we were still in the house, and he let us stay there KNOWING the problems we had and KNOWING it was toxic. He intentionally did this to save himself.
After an almost three day stay at Stollerys and 15 to 20 doctors, Teddy was tested for everything else that could have been the problem, and all those tests came back negative. The test to prove it was the mold is very invasive, and as Teddy was improving, the risks outweighed the benefits, so we didn't do the test. They concluded based on the toxic levels in the home, the symptoms Teddy had, and the fact that being out of the environment improved his symptoms, that it was safe to say the culprit was the mold.
We had contacted renter tenancy branch, who advised us the issue wasn't their issue, but that it was a public health issue. I called public health and they sent out an inspector. The home was condemned based on not only the mold toxicity, but also because of massive structural problems that only come from neglecting a property.
We tried to have our renters insurance help us, but because mold at this extent is considered negligence, that it wasn't covered.
We were informed that everything we owned in the home is contaminated, and would need to be properly cleaned to the tune of $45,000. As you can understand, this is not an expense we can afford, and now we are faced with the reality that we are going to lose literally everything. If we take our belongings with us, we run the high risk of contaminating our new home, and we would be financially liable if we do. Not only that, but Teddy is basically like the canary in a coal mine - he's reacted to clothes we had from the house, for example.
We have spoken to a lawyer, we have a good case that will go to the court of Queens Bench, but that will take years. We need help now. We have a new home to go to, but nothing to put in it. No beds, no couch, no art, no clothes, no kids toys, our antique book collection is gone. Our Bibles are gone. Everything for our kids is contaminated, and as they've suffered the worst, its best to err on the side of caution and get rid of it all and start fully fresh.
The financial and emotional impacts of this is something we don't even comprehend fully yet. Our eldest son cries himself to sleep because we don't have a home and he can't go back to his toys. I have not worked in weeks during the busiest season for seamstresses. I've lost so much business, and I'm going to lose everything I've built over the past four years for my business.
We are thankful and blessed that we will physically recover with likely no lasting results, but we need help now. We are blessed that this landlord cannot do this to anyone else. But we are ruined. If you can help, we would be eternally grateful and humbled.
Lili & Mike Poelzer