There’s much more research to be done on toxic mold, and the discussion about how the city should handle the problem – if at all – is also to be continued. Members of the Environmental Control Advisory Board, after more than an hour of discussion about mold and public health concerns, decided to suspend further deliberation on the issue until the next ECAB meeting, scheduled for Nov. 20.
Local resident Elisa Larkin asked ECAB to take up the mold discussion after her family experienced serious health consequences due to their exposure to mold in a Norman rental apartment.”The problem affects everybody,” Larkin told the citizens advisory board. “It affects children, it affects families, it affects the economy.”
Larkin passed out copies of a letter from the City of Norman addressed to the owner of a residence after code compliance officers had inspected the damage caused by mold. “The letter says test and abate, it doesn’t say what happens if they don’t do it,” she said. Code inspectors are already inspecting – all they need to be able to do is say ‘Here’s the code, here’s what can happen if you don’t clean it up.'”
Attorney Steven Jung linked mold to asbestos. “I anticipate some legislation at the state level, with some mold provisions being put into the (landlord-tenant) act itself. By advising the city to adopt an ordinance that includes the abatement of mold, and by putting some teeth – fines and time limits – into it, Norman would be ahead of the game when state regulations come,” Jung said.
Brent Carter of United Adjustment Services said there are more than 2 million species of mold, and scientists only have a grasp on 200,000 of them. “No one wants to jump on the band wagon when we don’t understand it,” he said. Carter, who said his company provides free information to landlords and tenants, advised the board to develop general safety practice guidelines for the city to provide its residents. “When it comes to mold, the best offense is a good defense,” he said.
City staff liaison Mark Daniels shared information and recommendations provided by the city’s legal department. According to the information, the city “could, upon proof that a toxic mold exists in a structure, order the abatement of the public health nuisance within a reasonable period of time. Because the city does not have the resources or expertise available to determine these types of issues, testing of the mold at a certified laboratory to determine toxicity would be the responsibility of the complainant. A more productive approach to these types of matters may be to treat it as a private landlord/tenant (or homeowner/homebuilder) issue.”
Revitalization Manager Linda Price said code compliance officers have the ability to file charges if abatement isn’t done, but “the municipal court doesn’t have the ability to require it to be fixed.” The issue becomes a municipal court matter, rather than “taking care of the issue at hand,” she said. Price said other options contained in code are for the city council to abate the public health nuisance if the property owner does not comply with orders to do so. Upon completion, a lien is placed on the property for the costs of abatement. Price said code compliance also can, without city council authorization, declare the property “unfit for human habitation,” and have it boarded and secured.
ECAB members discussed recommendations to council for possible amendments to the code, such as requiring property owners to remedy mold problems and pay for subsequent testing at their own expense. “I think it’s unfair to characterize the city as not doing anything if they are limited by state law and the resources available,” said ECAB member Geoff Canty. “It’s an issue of the city having limited resources and state law preventing them from being at the forefront of the issue.”