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Mold Spreading From Abandoned Homes Worries Residents Returning After Sandy

By Nicholas Rizzi | July 3, 2013 8:38am
 Michael Grimm said resident worry breathing in mold from neighbors home could be dangerous.
Hurricane Sandy Mold
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NEW DORP BEACH — Nearly nine months after being walloped by Superstorm Sandy, Stacey Sclafani's Midland Beach home almost repaired.

The home attached to it, however, hasn't been touched. And Sclafani worries the creeping mold that's thriving inside is about to make her hard work worthless.

“The owner is not involved, the bank doesn't want to do anything,” she said of the foreclosed property.

"I’m rebuilding, I’m almost done,” she said. “I don't want to find out after all this money that I have mold anyway.”

Rep. Michael Grimm said his office has a list of about 60 homes across the borough that are abandoned, and that pose a threat to the commuity of mold, squatters and structural safety.

“It's a public nuisance and it is a public hazard,” he said.

“We’re calling on the city to come in and declare these houses so that these houses can be taken down or mold remediated or whatever needs to be done to clean up and make neighborhoods safe.”

The homes were either in foreclosure before the storm, or were rental properties with owners difficult to contact.

The city’s Department of Health said neighbors of the homes shouldn’t really worry about mold posing a threat to their health.

“Mold in an abandoned home does not generally pose a health risk to neighbors,” said Veronica Lewin, a spokeswoman for the Health Department.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations said that they have had some success remediating mold in abandoned homes, but can’t enter a property without the owner's consent.

“We have also worked with the community to identify some of the homes that have been possibly abandoned and have had some success getting the owners to sign on, and in other cases, worked with the state Dept. of Financial Services to contact the banks that own the properties to clean them,” said Peter Spencer, spokesman for the Housing Recovery office.

“But ultimately, we need an owner to sign a right of entry and allow the mold contractors to do the work. We cannot illegally enter the home and do it.”

For homeowners who have to tear down their houses, getting the city to do it also proves difficult.

Nicole Chanti, who’s Topping Street home was completely flooded by the storm, started to gut it to make repairs until she found out she had structural damage that was irreversible.

Chanti said most houses on her block have been waiting to come down or repaired, and she worries for the health of a sick neighbor who may be breathing in mold spores.

“We’re all waiting on repairs and rebuilding,” she said. “My neighbor has an auto immune disease and I’m very, very worried about her.”

Grimm said the red tape from the city’s Department of Buildings makes it a long process to get the home torn down.

“She wants to do this right but the red tape for her to get this house torn down by the Buildings Department just seems insurmountable,” he said.

The Department of Buildings did not respond to request for comments.

Aside from the abandoned homes, Grimm said that another problem for victims is the potential return of mold.

Even though people may have remediated it inside their home, many did not treat the outside.

“You can do all the work on your house, do everything the right way and months later, maybe a year later, the external mold will go right through the wood on these walls and start infecting the entire home,” he said.