IMMOKALEE — Mold and problems with what could be Chinese
drywall are forcing 33 elderly, low income and disabled residents from
their low-rent apartment complex in Immokalee.
Though residents said
they can’t afford to leave, some, who have been complaining of
respiratory problems, can’t really stay either.Greenish-gray mold creeps
up the outside walls at Bromelia Place and there is more mold inside
The mold the 30-unit
apartment complex may have been caused by faulty windows or the
possible use of defective Chinese drywall.
The 33 tenants were given
until the end of August to move out and find a new place to live.
“We are all full of
anxiety. We are scared,” Cynthia Allen, 52, said. “I’m fearful because
I don’t know what my future is going to be next month.”
After testing a piece of
the wall in an apartment for Chinese drywall, officials found mold,
said Cheryl Wickersham, vice president of housing for the building’s
owner United Church Homes Inc., a not-for-profit retirement services
corporation offering housing, health care and other services.
Further testing revealed
excessive levels of mold. Owners felt that moving the tenants would be
the best option, Wickersham said, who also serves as
assistant secretary and treasurer of Immokalee Senior Housing.
Wickersham said the mold
was caused by water damage from faulty windows. She said the windows
installed were made for a
concrete block building. Bromelia Place is wood frame.
Since the apartments,
also known as Immokalee Senior Housing, opened in 2007
Southwest Florida’s rainy seasons have soaked the building.
A lodging licensing
inspection of Bromelia Place was done on March 19, 2008 and a routine
lodging inspection was conducted on Dec. 2, 2008. Both times, the
complex met inspection standards, according to the The Department of
Business and Professional Regulations Web site.
Collier County code
enforcement has no active case at Bromelia Place, Collier
County spokesman John Torre said.
Officials from United
Church Homes Inc. met with tenants about one month ago and then again
last week to inform them of the situation.
On July 30, tenants
received a landlord
notice of termination and a 30-day notice of eviction. They
must move out by Aug. 31. In addition, four tenants received a memo to
temporarily vacate their apartments until repairs were completed. The
memo was later recalled, officials said.
leases, state law only requires a 15-day notice to vacate. A year
lease requires a 60-day notice.
For the past two weeks,
officials have been searching diligently to find
affordable housing for tenants. For many, there’s a
Allen, who has been a
tenant for about 14 months, said she has been looking for another
apartment, but apartments in the same price range in Immokalee are
scarce. She pays $119 per month for her one-bedroom apartment.
She was also searching
for apartments in Alabama, yet worried that a check from the landlord
for $500 to assist in moving expenses wouldn’t cover her relocation.
Allen’s apartment had
mold on her windowsill near her sofa and
mold spores on the window.
Allen, who has been
experiencing difficulty breathing, was upset that apartment officials
wouldn’t pay for any medical bills caused by the mold.
“We are desperate for
some help and we definitely need legal representation,” said Allen,
who suffers from a panic disorder.
Wickersham said there
were plenty of units in Immokalee available but it has been difficult
to find affordable housing.
At the end of July, the
complex’s owners filed litigation with the building’s contractor,
Siltek Group Inc.
Siltek officials couldn’t
be reached for comment.
After repairs, officials
said they hope to re-open Bromelia Place — one of two apartments
sponsored by United Church Homes Inc. in Immokalee — and allow
existing tenants to have first choice of the apartments. United Church
Homes Inc. has 16 properties in 14 states across the nation.
Greg Sharp, 54, who has a
pacemaker and is physically disabled, said he’s been having difficulty
“I live on $600 a month,
what am I suppose to do,” Sharp, whose trash can was covered with
He said apartment
officials have told him that he would be helped.
Sharp will be relocated
to Ohio near his
family, officials said later this week.
Danny Thomas, 63,
and some other residents have plans to move to Crestview Park
Apartments in Immokalee.
Thomas questioned why
apartment officials let him move in on June 17.
Now, Thomas, who suffers
from throat cancer, said he has to go somewhere he cannot afford,
because he has no other option.
His one-bedroom apartment
rent will increase from $153 at Bromelia Place to $400 at
Despite having cancer and
facing a financial hardship, he’s optimistic.
“There’s no reason to get
upset for something you can’t do anything about,” Thomas said.