Residents at a Columbus senior apartment complex want federal housing officials to investigate what they believe is mold continuing to grow in some top-floor apartments and a utility closet, even after the complex owners said they have fixed the problem.
About 75 people live in Central Park Place Apartments, 1500 13th St., which was built about four years ago and has 60 apartments for people age 55 and older. The building is owned by the Miller-Valentine Group, which has offices in Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio.
In late August, one of the residents, Lora Sites, was told a resident on the third floor of the complex entered what is called an environmental room, which has a furnace and other mechanicals and a trash chute to drop trash bags to the basement.
As the residents were putting garbage bags in the chute, they noticed a smell and saw “black stuff” on the wall near the furnace, Sites said. More investigation determined that a similar substance was around bathroom registers in some of the apartments and some of the registers were dripping water in addition to being covered with the substance, she said.
Most people originally had thought it was mildew, but now are concerned that it is mold, Sites said.
“A lot of people are sick and going to the doctor,” she said.
The residents have contacted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with their complaints, Sites said, but have not heard back whether the agency will investigate conditions at the apartment complex. Many of the residents have federally subsidized rent payments for the complex, she said.
Columbus City Councilman Dascal Bunch did a walk-through of the apartments with city code enforcement officer Fred Barnett in response to the residents’ concerns and said he noticed that someone had come in and painted over areas where the black substance had been, but it was seeping through the paint again.
“I’m not sure it’s actually mold, but it needs to be looked at by someone who knows what they’re looking at,” Bunch said.
Barnett said he noticed there had been paint touch-ups over the areas where residents said mold was showing up and that it was reappearing in some areas.
“You can’t really touch up mold,” Barnett said. “You can’t just paint over it.”
Barnett turned the matter over to the Bartholomew County Health Department, which has testing equipment to determine what the substance is and how to remediate it, he said.
“I think there is a potential health hazard there,” he said.
Bunch notified Stella Collins, who manages federal Section 8 properties for the Columbus Housing Authority, and Collins met with several of the residents in September about their concerns, she said.
Collins contacted property manager Diana Patterson and sent an inspector to make sure the apartments were in compliance, she said. She also contacted the county health department and later learned that the complex had called in a maintenance technician who had cleaned up the substance in the utility room, she said.
She was told by apartment representatives that a port in the air conditioning unit in the utility room in question was leaking and had been repaired, and that was believed to be the cause of the problem, she said. The substance was cleaned from the room and new registers were put in to replace those damaged by water, she said.
Collins said she had not heard of any further problems, but said she would check with the residents about some sort of mold substance reappearing on the painted walls in the complex.
Link Fulp, director of environmental health for the Bartholomew County Health Department, said health officials received a complaint over Labor Day weekend from the residents and called the property manager about the issue.
The health department was told the air conditioner drain in the third-floor environmental room had blocked up, causing moisture to drip from the third floor to the second floor, resulting in a mildew problem from the high moisture conditions and high humidity.
Fulp said the department tests for the moisture conditions that allow mildew and mold spores to grow and is willing to return to the complex if residents report the moisture conditions are recurring.
“The real problem is that the complex has a three-story atrium and the moisture goes up to the top and stays there,” Fulp said, saying the high humidity and temperatures Columbus experienced in September could be a contributing factor. “It’s just more humid on the third floor of that building because of the air flow.”
The health department recommended that the complex install industrial-size humidifiers for the top floors to alleviate any mildew sheen on the walls.
“A lot of it is balancing their heating and air conditioning system to the air flow,” he said. “This is more of an engineering problem and an excessive humidity problem.”
Patterson, the community manager for the complex, released the following written statement Sept. 29 in response to the complaints:
“The management team at Central Park Place was made aware of a patch of mold in the trash chute closet and immediately and properly cleaned the area. A certified HVAC contractor was brought in to find and repair the leak, thus eliminating the potential for this situation to reoccur. The Housing Authority of the City of Columbus, as well as the Bartholomew County Health Department inspected and approved the repair. Our company has a strong inspection and prevention program, and always responds quickly to maintenance and safety issues.”
Cheri Steel, a regional manager for Miller-Valentine in Ohio, declined to comment on the matter.
Miller-Valentine is ranked third on Affordable Housing Finance Magazine’s list of Top 50 Affordable Housing Developers in 2016, according to a recent press release. The ranking is based on new units started in 2016. That ranking represented 1,134 units started and 419 completed, company officials said.