Families get sick due to apartment mold

January 5, 2011 4:40:41 PM PST
Something may be growing in the walls at an East Bay apartment complex and it's making people sick. Now, renters who spoke up may have another problem besides worrying about their health.

"We got sick. Runny noses, coughing, stuff like that, just normal sickness we thought we were catching from outside," said tenant Joseph Lombardo.

But the illnesses were never-ending. It was a medical mystery to Lombardo's family until the answer fell right through his ceiling.

"We were getting sick from mold and I went down there and asked them, 'Is this mold?' 'No, it's wet dirt.' That's what she told me at the office," said Lombardo.

After he complained to the management of the Portofino Apartments in Pittsburg, Lombardo was told to hire his own mold specialist for $500.

"This was black mold they brought out of my house," said Lombardo, as he dug through a garbage bag full of debris with black mold.

The report showed high levels of black mold and a recommendation to find and fix an apparent leak in the roof. It turns out Lombardo isn't alone.

"He gets sick a lot, often, like ever since we kind of lived here, and he was never like that," said tenant Stefanie Olmedo.

Other residents are complaining about respiratory illnesses and now they wonder what could be growing behind their walls and ceilings.

"Well, I know I cough a lot. And I have a 14-year-old son... the same thing," said another resident.

Wednesday, the Pittsburg city building inspector is scheduled to examine at least one of the building's roofs and determine if there's proper ventilation for the apartment units.

ABC7's attempts to contact the Portofino Apartment managers and their corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas were unsuccessful.

"I have two clients who had problems that we thought could be easily remedied," said attorney Bob Kane.

Now they're suing the management company, Riverstone Residential Group, and apartment owner Aspen Leverage for damages and wrongful eviction after they say they were kicked out for complaining.

"We're not talking about people who have a lot of resources, so one of the problems is they were put in positions where they end up having to stay in these units because there's no other place to go," said Kane.

Thirty other tenants are also suing separately for damages and wrongful eviction. Kane said all they ever wanted is for the problem to be fixed.