Oct. 14 2015 11:30 AM

Recent county inspection affirms basement growths

Despite repeated denials by Lansing code inspectors, a rental property City Pulse reported on in July does in fact have a mold problem, according to documents obtained from the city and Ingham County — and has for over a year.

Documents from the Ingham County Health Department show mold has been a concern at that property, at 816 Bancroft Court in the Genesee Neighborhood, since June 2014. The department released two inspection records on the home. The first inspection in June 2014 was because of an “odor of mold in the basement.” It “did not find any significant mold growth,” the report stated.

That inspection was carried out by Michael Allen, a toxicologist with the department’s environmental health program. Allen also responded to an Aug. 4 request from Larry Connelly, an inspector with the City’s Code Compliance Office, to inspect the property.

The house and its issues were featured as part of a larger reporting project by City Pulse revealing problems with the city’s inspections and registration processes.

Councilmembers have been arguing for months that the Code Compliance Office needs more inspectors. City officials have reported a delay in hiring a full contingent of officers already budgeted for has caused landlords and others to wait months in backlog for inspections on their properties. The result is that homes like 816 Bancroft fall through the cracks and leave poorer residents at risk of living in substandard housing.

“I did find both mold growth and spalling on the basement concrete surfaces,” Allen wrote to Connelly in an Aug. 18 letter.

Spalling is a term used for the deposits of salts left by evaporated water that entered the home through the concrete.

“The extent of spalling suggests that the soils surrounding the basement are often saturated,” Allen wrote. “This has likely been going on for many years. This suggests that there may not be a simple solution to drying the soils surrounding the basement.”

In an email to City Pulse, Scott Sanford, lead housing inspector for the city, said his office did not see any “obvious evidence of mold” during inspections on the property. Instead, he said, code officials asked the county to inspect because “they are trained and have the equipment to do this type of work.”

George Van Douser, who rents the property at 816 Bancroft, spoke to City Pulse back in July about the condition of the licensed rental. At the time, the basement had mold in it, and photos provided to City Council members as well as expressions of concern for the residents resulted in a complaint to Code Compliance.

“In the basement I found evidence of a grow operation and electrical wiring installed without a permit,” wrote Connelly in an email to City Council members in July. “I observed traces of water on the basement floor and what looked to be dirt where the tenant claims is mold. I did not see mold on the basement walls or any of the appliances, furnace or water heater. The second floor bath vanity is loose from the wall and the sink arrears to be clogged. A safety inspection letter has been issued for the violations observed at this property.”

City Pulse observed and documented what appeared to be mold — something city officials repeatedly denied.

Regarding “the alleged ‘black mold on the walls,’” Sanford wrote earlier this summer, “this wasn’t black mold, it was potting soil left over from the grow room that had been installed in the basement.”

But now documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the city shows, despite public denials, code inspectors did have concerns about conditions in the basement that could foster mold and mildew growth.

“It is suggested that a dehumidifier be used in the basement to control the presents (sic) of water on the floor and to control the humid conditions during the summer months,” Connelly and Sanford wrote in a report on their July 16 inspection of the property. “This may help eliminate the presents (sic) of any mildew that may occur due to the humid conditions.”

Allen, the county toxicologist, noted in his Aug. 18 letter that mold — even dormant or dead — can cause allergies and other health issues.

Van Douser told City Pulse that despite a city inspection finding numerous code violations, landlord Ollie Olsen had failed to correct them. Sanford said Olsen had until Aug.14 to correct the violations inspectors found but the city has extended his deadline. Sanford said the extension was granted “as he is going through court proceedings with the current tenant.”

VanDouser said over the weekend that his family and Olsen came to a compromise last month to stop eviction proceedings and allow the family to remain in the property. City code compliance officials have not been back to re-inspect the property since those July inspections.

Meanwhile, Olsen who bought the property in June, is facing a tax foreclosure proceeding.