Saturday, August 10, 2013

Homeowner's Lawsuit: Now-Foreclosed Neighbor's Landscaping Improperly Redirected Stormwater, Causing Flooding Inside My Home At Least Eight Times; Resulting Mold Problem Renders Now-Abandoned Premises Unlivable

In Pelham, Alabama, The Birmingham News reports:

  • Judy Berneske has dangerous black mold in the common wall of her now abandoned townhome in Pelham. Because of the mold, she can't sell the home except at a give-away price, she said. But living in it makes her sick, so she's been forced to rent an apartment at great financial hardship, she said.

    Getting rid of the mold right now is not possible, until all sources of water intrusion are corrected -- that's the subject of a lawsuit against a former neighbor who owned the townhome next to hers.

    After a 5-year ordeal dealing with insurance companies, lawyers and health officials, Berneske said she still has no relief, stuck with a moldy townhome and lingering health effects from living there. "I didn't see it as a big deal at first" in 2008, she said. "But I ran into nothing but dead ends trying to resolve it."

    As a last resort, she said, in 2010 she filed a lawsuit against a former neighbor whom she said caused water to leak into her home.

    She has an engineering report that points a finger at the neighbor for the water. She has a mold laboratory report confirming the presence of high levels of mold, including the stachybotrys chartarum species, commonly known as black mold. And she has a 2010 letter from a doctor saying she has asthma due to exposure to the mold in her home.

    "I can't live there. I can't rent it. And I can't sell it," said Berneske, a 62-year-old living on a fixed disability income.

    The story begins 10 years after she bought the Pelham townhome in 1998. She says a neighbor's landscaping redirected stormwater, causing flooding inside her house on at least eight occasions.

    Her insurance company paid for an engineers report, which confirmed that the water was coming from the neighbor's property and that changes in landscaping were a key reason. Berneske's insurance company, Traveler's, however was unwilling to get involved, Berneske said. Her insurance company said she needed to make a third-party claim on the neighbor's policy, Allstate.

    Allstate offered her a little more than $5,000 for remediation, Berneske said. However, the insurance company said they couldn't make the neighbor correct his water problems, she said.

    "Why would I take the money to repair my home if it was just going to continue flooding?" she asked. "My home can't be repaired until the flooding is stopped."

    In 2010, she filed the lawsuit.

    A mold testing company found "dangerously high" spore levels in her home.

    When she was diagnosed with asthma she followed her doctor's advice and moved out of her townhome to an apartment in Hoover where she lives now.

    Her former neighbor moved out and rented his place to tenants. It later went into foreclosure, and ownership went to PNC Mortgage. It is owned now by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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