When the Poelzer family moved to Lacombe from Vancouver last year in order to work towards owning their own home, they didn’t expect to instead be left homeless and sick thanks to mould.
However, early this month, the family of five – Lili and Mike Poelzer and their three boys, Clifford, 4, Stockton, 2 and Theodor – affectionately referred to as Teddy – had to leave their downtown Lacombe rental due to the “astronomical” levels of four different types of mould throughout the property.
Although they’d all been suffering health issues from fatigue and anxiety to sore throats and chronic coughs, while Teddy was diagnosed with what was believed to be pneumonia, the problem became apparent in January when they noticed a strong mould smell in the bathroom. Soon, mould spots were found in the upstairs closet, mere feet away from where Teddy’s crib was.
The seven-month old, who was born in the house, never seemed to get rid of his “pneumonia,” and was was in and out of hospital and had a stint at the Stollery Children’s Hospital where they tested him for numerous causes from asthma to allergies and even cystic fibrosis, but all tests came back clear leading them to believe it was the mould causing the issues.
The approached their landlord with their concerns, particularly over the health of their children and demanded an air test be done, but they said the landlord put off testing until May 2, at which time they said the health and safety of their family didn’t seem to be his top priority.
“We sent the landlord pictures. He wanted to remediate without testing it,” Lili said. “I was trying to implore to him about Teddy’s condition and give him opportunity to be a decent human being, but he didn’t say he’s sorry this is happening – just wanted to know when we were paying rent.
“I bit my tongue. I paid the rent and we had the public health inspector come in and condemn the place.”
As per AHS Public Health Inspector Bob More, in a report to the Poelzers – which was also sent to the property owner – the home had a number of issues from a lack of smoke alarm on the upper floor to a sloping support beam, as well as bricks falling away from the south foundation wall – not to mention outside light visible through the north wall of the foundation in the basement.
More notably, however, was fungal air testing results indicating “above acceptable levels of Aspergillus/Penicillium spores in the main floor bathroom, upper floor closet (northeast bedroom), upper floor hall and the basement,” as well as above acceptable levels of Cladosporium spores in the basement.
He said the house cannot be occupied by new tenants until the issues had been rectified.
However, with contamination in the house to that degree, the Poelzers either have to replace or have their belongings professionally cleaned, which could amount to $45,000 or more. Insurance won’t cover anything as mould is an exemption and considered “gross negligence,” and their decision to move into a hotel is also on them and as a result, they said they’ve depleted their savings, and near-future hope of owning their own home.
Lili, a seamstress who would normally be in the middle of grad and wedding season, has also lost all her materials and product, and says she was only able to complete a few dresses prior to discovering the situation with the home.
Beyond the material loss, however, there’s the emotional impact.
“My eldest is crying himself to sleep at night. He doesn’t have a house to go to, he’s got to get rid of all of his toys,” Lili said, visibly choking up. “He doesn’t understand why.”
The most challenging part of the whole situation, however, has been getting people to believe how much the mould affected their health.
“There seems to be a pretty big disconnect between the health care system and health care professionals and their understanding of the dangers and the science behind it. You look at WHO…Alberta public health condemned the house because it’s dangerous, but most doctors don’t take it seriously. They didn’t believe us,” Mike said.
“I had one doctor laugh at me when I suggested it was the mould.”
However, given all of their conditions have improved, from Stockton, who they thought had an autism regression, who has begun spitting out words he never said before, to Teddy, who was showing development delays beforehand.
“He’s doing so much better now that he’s out of the house. He wasn’t rolling over, he wasn’t sitting up, eating solid food and babbling and now we’ve been out three weeks and he’s doing all those things,” Lili said.
Still, they said it hasn’t ruined their impression of Lacombe, and said the community support has been huge.
“It has been our saving grace, really. If we didn’t have that, we would be basically bankrupt with nothing,” Mike said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/help-for-the-poelzer-family. As of Wednesday morning, $3,830 had been raised from 44 different donors.
As for how to move forward, they said their only recourse is to find a lawyer who will work on contingency and sue the landlord. In the meantime, they just want to raise awareness of what breathing in mould can do.
“Take it serious and get it remediated properly,” Mike said.
Fortunately, the Poelzers will be moving into a new rental at the end of the month.
“Rent is going up exorbitantly, but it’ll be worth it because we’ll be safe,” Lili said.
The Lacombe Globe is working to confirm the property owner and reach out to them for comment, however, had not been able to do so at the time of press.