Moldy floors. Stinky water. What's a renter to do?

Published: Jul. 24, 2019 at 6:22 PM AKDT
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At Creekside Apartments in Palmer the lawns are newly mowed. The grounds -- tidy. But according to Kandi Rohr, something's not right.

She leads us through the unit above hers. Stopping in the bathroom, she leans down and pulls back the flooring, to reveal a dense patch of black.

"And that's been cleaned," she says as she reveals the growth.

"We have a black mold issue and have for quite a while. I am afraid it's growing down and I just, -- I can't be around it," she told KTUU Wednesday.

In her ground level until, she has similar problems -- though not as pervasive, in her bathroom and underneath the lip of her kitchen sink.

"We try our best to provide our tenants with a comfortable home," Somerset Pacific, which owns the complex, told KTUU when asked about Rohr's complaint.

According to Rohr, routine maintenance often goes unattended.

There's the mold issue, and then also leaks in her ceiling, a water heater she says is due for replacement, tap water that smells strongly of chlorine, and a failing refrigerator in her neighbor's upstairs unit.

"I've had flu-like symptoms just appear out of nowhere," said Rohr, who believes the mold is making her ill.

"We have a very strict policy about mold and discoloration. We don't tolerate that," Luai Abdallah, the company's operations president, told KTUU.

"People think that when people complain about mold that it is a visual problem, that it is unsightly. It is unsightly, but it is also dangerous," said Patty Saunders, development director with Alaska Community Action on Toxics, told KTUU.

Rohr's also worried about the water.

"If I drink it I get violently ill. I don't know what's wrong with it," she said, explaining it often has a strong chlorine smell.

In 2014, she experienced a swollen airway, something her doctor said could be due to the chlorine content of the water, which according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation meets safe water standards.

"If this water source is being tested and it doesn't come up in violation, it means that the smell is bad, it doesn't mean there is too much chlorine," Saunders said.

Even at legal levels, Rohr may be sensitive to the chemical.

Hours after our visit, Rohr received notice that property managers would inspect and assess the mold issue the next day.

After that inspection, they told Rohr they would have the mold and other maintenance needs handled by next Thursday.

"We are going to do everything in our power to maintain these properties and keep our tenants happy," Abdallah told us in a phone interview Wednesday.

He also explained that they've ordered a replacement refrigerator for the upper unit, since none were able to be locally sourced. When appliances like refrigerators fail, he said they will compensate tenants for any food spoilage that occurs.

Because the complex rents to low income Alaskans and accepts housing vouchers, the apartments are audited yearly and inspected every three months. None of the notes from those reviews, including one in June, mention mold, he said.

Rohr and her neighbor say problems have been previously reported, and it's not clear why their reports are not a part of their tenant files.

Rohr just wants a fresh start.

She's now on a waiting list to move to a different unit, but she remains worried about what to do while she waits.

"I can't continue to live like this. I just can't," she said.

Where to go for help:

The Alaska Landlord Tenant Act requires landlords to maintain premises in a "fit and habitable condition." The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distributes vouchers to public housing agencies, like the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, has similar requirements. Housing complexes that fail to meet those standards risk losing the eligibility to receive voucher payments.

If a landlord fails to comply with their obligations, tenants may move, but only after giving proper notice and the landlord an opportunity to fix conditions. If a tenant leaves under these circumstances, landlords are also supposed to return prepaid rent or security deposits.

Other remedies include: making repairs and deducting the cost from rent; and, temporarily staying somewhere else, and withhold paying rent until the problem is cured.

A summary of the Landlord Tenant Act published by the Alaska

Department of Law notes tenants have an obligation to give landlords notice before acting on any of the remedies above.

Guidance is available through monthly clinics and weekly call-in sessions hosted by the Alaska Legal Services Corporation.

The Landlord/Tenant Legal Helpline provides free assistance to both tenants and landlords. It's open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. In Anchorage call 907-743-1000. Outside Anchorage, call 855-743-1001.

A free Landlord/Tenant Legal Clinic is held in Anchorage the first Thursday of every month, from 6-8 pm at the Fairview Community Recreation Center.

Finally, Creekwood Apartment residents may also call Somerset Pacific's Resident Care Line at (208) 649-1528. It is a confidential way to report problems at any of the company's properties.

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