Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Family who bought mould-infested 'dream home' to receive $300K for rebuild


TORONTO -- An Ontario family who was forced to move out of their new home when they discovered it was infested with toxic black mould will be able to afford a rebuild after the province’s home warranty program stepped in.

In June 2018, Bridget Austin, her husband Mike, and their two young daughters moved from Grisby, Ont. into what they believed would be their “dream home” in Port Sydney, Ont., located about a two-hour drive north of Toronto.

However, within the first few weeks of living in the home, the couple’s two young daughters developed consistent fevers and one of them was diagnosed with strep throat.

Soon after, the family uncovered what appeared to be mould lurking beneath their floorboards when they were renovating the kitchen. They also found the fungus growing in the basement ceiling, behind the baseboards, and even in the cold air return.

A specialist confirmed their suspicions after taking samples from the home. The results revealed the home was infested with stachybotrys, or toxic black mould, and it was unsafe to live in.

“They basically deemed our house a tear-down,” Bridget Austin told CTVNews.ca in June. “They said that there is no amount of remediation that can be done to fix this home.”

After they moved into a rental unit in nearby Huntsville, Austin said they learned the home was not as new as they were led to believe. Neighbours in Port Sydney said construction on the home had started in 2006 – not 2016 as the Austins were told.

According to neighbours, the partially completed home had sat for years exposed to the elements without any siding.

Bridget Austin said their insurance denied them coverage because the mould was present in the home before they bought it. She said they had a home inspection completed before the sale, but the mould wasn’t discovered then.

With little other recourse, the Austins filed a lawsuit against the builder accusing him of covering up the mould in order to sell the home.

CTVNews.ca has attempted to contact the builder, but he has not responded to requests for comment.

In the ensuing months, the family struggled to make ends meet as they paid rent and utilities for their current home while they also paid the mortgage, utilities, and property taxes on the house with the mould. Even the $8,000 in donations they received from a GoFundMe campaign weren’t enough to cover their expenses, Austin said.

By November, Bridget Austin said they were only a month or two away from declaring bankruptcy.

“We’d pretty much be losing everything,” she said on Saturday. “We would have lost our property had we claimed bankruptcy.”


'A MIRACLE'

Finally in early November, the Austin family received a piece of good news.

Tarion Warranty Corporation, a private, non-profit organization created by the Ontario government in the 1970s to regulate builders and protect homebuyers, told the Austins they had accepted their warranty claim.

“Once we became aware of the situation, we did an investigation and determined that the home was under warranty,” Melanie Kearns, director of strategic communications for Tarion, said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca.

“Mould claims of the extent seen in their house are pretty rare, but when they happen they are serious. Ensuring a home is fit for habitation is part of the builder’s warranty. In this case the builder has refused to remedy the situation so we have stepped in to work with the family directly.”

Austin said the home warranty organization launched an investigation and fast-tracked their case after CTV News reported the story in June.

While Tarion wouldn’t disclose the extent or form of compensation, Bridget Austin said they were told they would receive the maximum payout of $300,000.

“We’re ecstatic. We’re so thrilled,” she said. “It’s a miracle, really. Them stepping up and helping us when we’re at rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn.”

She added that Tarion determined the cost to fix the home would be about the same as tearing it down and rebuilding. She said they decided to rebuild so they could be sure the mould wouldn’t return and to avoid any lingering “stigma” associated with the home should they try to sell it in the future.

“Everybody knows about the mould so we would never even be able to turn around, even if it was remediated, to sell it,” she said. “You’d be stuck in this mould toxin-ridden home.”

While the $300,000 should be enough to cover the costs of demolishing the house and rebuilding the “main portion,” Austin said they were quoted $475,000 to complete the project.

For example, Austin said they had a 600-square-foot garage they won’t be able to rebuild right away. She said they hope to recover the outstanding funds from the pending lawsuit.

The family has, however, received generous donations from local businesses in the community. Austin said they have been given a brand new HVAC system, flooring offered at cost and discounts on excavation and electrical work.

Austin said they plan to begin construction in the spring. And while the home will be the same square footage as the old one, she said it won’t resemble it.

“That to me would just be like a nightmare walking back into it every day,” she said. “It would just be a constant reminder of what we went through.”

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