The house that mould grew

Susan Berndt’s house smelled so bad that it knocked NDP Leader Todd Hardy back. “When they opened the door the smell made me step back,…

Susan Berndt’s house smelled so bad that it knocked NDP Leader Todd Hardy back.

“When they opened the door the smell made me step back, it was so strong,” he said.

“I didn’t want to come inside.”

Berndt’s house was full of mould.

“There was brown mould, black mould, yellow fungus and black slimy mushrooms,” she said.

Berndt, who was renting for $1,000 a month, lived at 209 Rogers Street for just over a year.

During that time, her health failed and many of her items were ruined, including an expensive leather jacket that grew yellow fungus while sitting in her bedroom.

“The house smelt mouldy,” she said.

“There was black mould growing up the walls of the bedroom, in the closet and on the ceiling.

“It even grew out of the electrical outlets.”

When Berndt viewed the house, things looked normal.

But the day she moved in, it all changed, she said.

The doorknob fell off in her hand, there were problems with the phone lines and there was a puddle on the bathroom floor, said Berndt.

It got worse when she went into the basement.

“There was water pouring from the light fixture onto the carpet,” she said.

Berndt called a plumber who came and replaced the toilet seal, and her landlord, Cynthia Tucker, reimbursed her.

But the damp mouldy smell remained.

There were other problems with the place, like a large crack running up the picture window. Tucker told Berndt it would be replaced, but that never happened, she said.

Afraid to make too many complaints and get blacklisted, Berndt said she dealt with the problems as best she could.

Water ran in through the stove’s exhaust fan, so Berndt kept a roasting pot under it.

And she continued to scrub all visible mould off the walls, she said.

Berndt would have moved out, but moving’s expensive and she had trouble finding an affordable place.

“I work at the Northwestel call centre and the Superstore, and a lot of the prices are out of my income bracket,” she said.

“Most places are going for $1,300 to $1,500 — that’s a two-week paycheque and it doesn’t even cover utilities.”

Every move is expensive, she added.

“You have to pay to hook up power and cable and the phone, and if you get movers that’s $140 an hour. Plus you need enough money to pay first and last (month’s rent).”

After some unsuccessful meetings with her bank, Berndt managed to get a mortgage through Yukon Housing and bought a place in September.

But a couple of weeks before she moved out of the Rogers Street house, the toilet seal broke again.

The basement flooded and many of Berndt’s packed boxes were destroyed.

“It damaged clothing, books, my record collection, furniture, shoes, my Hallmark ornaments, my teddy bear collection…”

Berndt had to wade through water and slimy mushrooms to get the boxes out.

Her husband Rudi Berndt (the couple are separated), came to help her move.

“It was a cesspit,” said Rudi.

“It smelt like a sewer,” added Susan.

After a couple of hours, Rudi was having trouble breathing.

“I don’t have allergies, but I had to go and get antihistamines,” he said.

“It was that severe.”

Over the course of the year, Susan’s health deteriorated.

“I’d feel really sick getting up in the morning,” she said.

“I couldn’t breath, it felt like flu symptoms.”

The Berndts decided to contact Hardy and the media because it’s not just a personal issue, they said.

“There are lots of people in the same situation all over the territory,” said Susan.

“People will call Northwestel to transfer their phone and tell me they are moving from one dump to another — it’s all they can afford.”

The worst hit are single women and children, added Rudi.

When Hardy walked into Susan’s basement “there were pools of water on the floor, tiles falling out of the ceiling and mould on the walls.”

Back outside, five metres from the door “the smell was still very strong, just radiating out of the house.”

“I can’t believe she was trying to live in it,” he said.

“From my understanding she was calling the landlord, who just refused to acknowledge her responsibility and address some of the problems with the house.”

Tucker tells a different story.

“We are in dispute and it’s proceeding to court,” she said on Friday morning.

“We are in strong disagreement as to the causes and who is responsible for the damages.”

Tucker did not want to get into details before the matter went to court.

“But I find it very disheartening that the landlords are always viewed as the bad guy when, frequently, there’s certain tenant responsibilities as well,” she said.

Hardy referenced the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act.

“It should state that the landlord is responsible to ensure that the home is a safe, healthy environment,” said Hardy.

“But there’s nothing in the act, that we could find, that would enforce anything like that.”

Next, he examined the territory’s Public Health and Safety Act.

It’s currently under review, but that doesn’t mean anything will change, he said.

“And there’s no regulations that actually enforce behaviour,” said Hardy.

“So if I and my child rent a place, who would be responsible if we suffered serious health problems from mould in the house, or fungus?

“The act seems to be too vague to deal with that kind of situation.”

There are safety rules about the structure of buildings, but there aren’t any hard and fast regulations about the health of a building, added Hardy.

“So the act seems to have missed the mark.”

The landlord should be responsible, he said.

“They’re making an income off people, so they should ensure the facilities they are renting are healthy and safe.”

Mould is an ongoing problem across the territory, said Hardy.

“And we need to look at the health implications and costs of not addressing this.”

There are two ways to address it, said Hardy.

There should be financial incentives for landlords to improve their places, but there also need to be regulations.

“So for landlords who don’t maintain their places, there’s some recourse that can be taken by the renters and the government.”

The Landlord and Tenant Act has no teeth, said Hardy.