Q: We purchased a home about two years ago, and soon after noticed mold in several areas. We have since found out that the house sat vacant for two years, and that the sellers definitely knew about the problem. Our insurance company turned down the claim, and we have been advised to hire a lawyer and go after the sellers. I have severe allergies and my son has pneumonia and we feel it’s unsafe to be in the house, but we can’t sell it either. We can’t afford to hire a mold abatement specialist because they want the house tested first to see what kind of mold is there. We really feel trapped, and would appreciate any help you can give us. – Nancy W.

A: This a definitely a tough situation to be in. My advice would be as follows:

1. Protect your health. Of foremost importance is protecting the health of you and your family, so I would begin by contacting your health care professional. Give him or her what information you have gathered so far, and make a determination as to whether it is safe for you to remain in the home.

2. Get specific information. You need to determine what the moisture source is that is causing the mold to grow, how severe the growth is, and what steps are going to be required to remediate the structure and make it safe for occupancy or sale. To do that, you need the services of an industrial hygienist with experience in mold testing.  The hygienist will visit the home, perform a series of air and/or surface tests, and provide you with a written report – called a protocol – that will tell you exactly what needs to be done. Your insurance agent or a local, experienced restoration contractor should be able to provide you with the name of a reputable hygienist.

A hygienist’s services can run $1,000 and up, and I certainly understand what a financial burden this can be.  But, in my opinion, that protocol is essential to you at this point, for three reasons. First, the mold may not be as bad as you think, and the remediation process may be fairly straightforward; second, the hygienist will provide you with the pre- and post-remediation testing necessary to either feel safe living in the house, or have adequate documentation to be able to sell it; and third, it forms a basis for any legal action you may choose to take against the seller.

3. Pursue all legal avenues open to you. Sellers and real estate agents typically have a legal obligation to disclose any information they possess about detrimental conditions in a home, past and present. If what you say is true, I think it is unconscionable that someone would sell a home that has potential health risks to the new buyer, and while our society is typically far too ready and willing to reach for a lawyer at the slightest provocation, there are times when their services are truly needed. I would suggest an initial meeting with an experienced real estate attorney – having the doctor’s report and the hygienist’s mold protocol in hand for that meeting would be helpful – and see what legal remedies might be open to you. Ideally, with the help of the attorney, all parties can work out a solution that gets you a healthy house and keeps everyone out of the courts.

Q: I had some remodeling done, and the general contractor did not do the job right and now will not rectify the problem. Who do I contact to file a complaint against the contractor? Is it the Better Business Bureau? Also, is a permit needed to add a bathroom? – the contractor said it wasn’tbecause of the small size of the room, but that doesn’t sound right. –Bob K.

A: The best place to contact is your local or state contractor’s board – simply do a Web search for your state name, following by “contractor’s board” or “contractor’s registration” to get more information.

In most states, if the work was done within the last year – and assuming the person who did the work was a licensed contractor at the time – the contractors board can assist you with filing a complaint. They will then help you and the contractor work things out through a mediation process, which is more effective then filing with the Better Business Bureau.

As to the second part of your question, I can’t imagine a set of circumstances where a permit would not be required for the addition of a bathroom, regardless of its size. Between framing, plumbing, electrical wiring, and other changes to your home, a number of building codes come into play that require inspection and verification from the building officials. For more information, contact your local city or county building department and describe the exact nature of the work being done. I would do this prior to contacting the contractor’s board, since the information you receive from the building department may become an important part of your complaint against the contractor.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.

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