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Mold causes health problems, spurs extensive litigation in San Diego

Jeff Mcdonald, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

Fenton understands the threat and adheres to a strict protocol once mold is reported, said Neal, the company president. Property managers dispatch an in-house crew to respond to complaints within hours and bring in outside experts when need be, he said.

The company willingly pays to move residents into hotels or alternate quarters through the course of any needed repairs, Neal said, but even their best practices do not prevent every moisture intrusion.

"We can't control the housekeeping aspect," he said.

Although mold complaints represent less than 1 percent of its service calls, Fenton said moisture issues are not uncommon in residential communities because plumbing can leak, windows get left open or water otherwise makes it way inside.

To answer those calls expeditiously, the company runs a robust training program for its maintenance staff--four hours for every new employee and remedial education for veteran workers. The classes are held monthly in a maintenance shop.

Inside, there are demonstration toilets, appliances, windows and mock drywall stations with holes cut through to expose copper piping--instructional aids designed to help teach workers the science of leak detection and repair.

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There's also a classroom area where workers are taught how to use equipment like HEPA vacuums, or high-efficiency particulate air filters, which help remove mold spores and other dangerous material from internal living spaces.

"We put all new hires through the program and our recurring employees come back for refreshers," maintenance manager Benito Teran said during a recent tour.

Mark Riedy, who directed the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate at the University of San Diego for more than 20 years, said property owners who receive multiple mold complaints in the same building need to address the root cause of the intrusion.

"Common sense and a sense of responsibility would say you re-do the whole building," Riedy said.

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