kennedy-homes_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — About seven months ago, Anjelyca Dunkinson began noticing mold in the bedroom and bathroom of her two-bedroom apartment in the Kennedy Homes public housing complex.  The 20-year-old mother said her 1-year-old daughter has now been diagnosed with asthma due to the mold conditions.

Her unit is not the only one affected. Since October, 10 units have been discovered to contain mold, said Tam English, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale. Tenants are planning to file a class action suit.

 “They have been threatening us, trying to get us out because we know about it and are suing them,” said Dunkinson, who has lived in the complex for the past two years. “It is a whole lot of chaos.”

English said the mold problem has been resolved in eight of the 10 units but two units remain untreated. “The tenants have insisted on staying in the unit,” said English, adding that those tenants are being represented by an attorney.  “So if they do have health problems, then there is not a lot we can do about it short of evicting the tenant.”

 The tenants’ leases allow the housing authority to evict a tenant for the purpose of repairing a unit, English said.

 The tenants have been offered an opportunity to temporarily move to nearby Northwest Gardens, a new 266-unit housing development at Eighth Street and 12th Avenue while the mold problems are fixed at Kennedy Homes, English said.  The relocation could last from one week to a couple of months, depending on the severity of the mold.

 Attorney Robert McKee, who is representing the tenants in the proposed lawsuit, denied that his clients have been offered alternative housing while the mold problem is addressed.

 Eight tenants have joined the suit, including a tenant who has had mold problems since moving into Kennedy Homes three months after it opened, McKee said.

 Tenants have also had doctor visits and were hospitalized for abnormal rashes, breathing problems and neurological disorders such as extreme fatigue and loss of memory, McKee said.  “It is a dangerous situation,” he said.

 To avoid having mold in their units, tenants were told upon moving in they should run the air conditioning, English said.

 “If they leave for the day and push the air conditioning up to 78 or 79 degrees, it will still keep the humidity out,” he said.  “Mold won’t grow if there is no humidity.”

 Tenants who have followed this advice have not had mold problems, said English, who added that the building is equipped with super-efficiency air conditioning units so it doesn’t cost tenants much to keep the units cool. 

 “This is not a problem that is specific to this building,” he added.  “Every other landlord has this problem because of the inherent humidity issues in south Florida.”

 McKee said some people who keep their units at a “constantly cold temperature” of below 72 degrees have a better chance of reducing the humidity. 

 “It is usually too cold for most people and it is very expensive,” he said.  “The [tenants] shouldn’t require that to control the humidity.”

 Based on testing, the structure has a problem dealing with indoor humidity, which causes abnormal levels of microbes to grow, McKee said. 

He said a separate de-humidifier with drainage outside of the building should be installed.  Humidity in the units can then be eliminated even when the air conditioning is not running.

 McKee said he has reached out to the housing authority but his written requests have been ignored or “nasty letters” were sent to his clients. The agency has not yet responded to a request for comment on that claim.

 McKee said he plans to file suit asking that tenants be relocated and their possessions cleaned or replaced while the mold is removed.  He is also calling for the tenants to be moved back in after the removal and anyone who has become ill to be medically monitored for the effects of exposure in the future.