Got Mold in Your Maryland Home? Essential Info You Need to Know


Rotten sill plate

Fungus converts cellulose and other organic materials into food to support further spore growth--spreading the damage far beyond the initial point of water intrusion.  In this case, significant structural damage occurred due to past water leaks.  The former owner concealed this damage beneath siding without disclosing it.  This home was inspected by a "referred" inspector prior to closing, but the new homeowner was the one who discovered it months later.  Hiring an independent, licensed inspector with building trades experience is critical to discovering deliberately hidden defects that make houses "sick."

Sources of mold in the home

Mold grows wherever high humidity or excessive moisture is found within the home. This can be caused by any number of defects, some seemingly minor at the time, but all of which can significantly detract from indoor air quality.

Chronic exposure to mold is known to cause a host of symptoms including but not limited to:

  1. Itching or irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat.
  2. Skin rashes.
  3. Runny nose and sinus congestion.Allergy Gal
  4. Frequent sneezing or coughing.
  5. Difficulty breathing.
  6. Headaches and fatigue.

CDC's Mold and Health Affects Resources Web site

What can be done if you suspect you're living in a "sick" house?

Consult an IAC2 certified mold remediation specialist who has the building science knowledge and trades experience to properly identify and correct material defects contributing to poor indoor air quality.  Remember, any licensed MHIC "Chuck in a truck" can perform "remediation" services in Maryland, so be sure to ask questions and do your research.          A great place to begin research is EPA's Mold and Your Home Resources Web site

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Don't trust your home investment or your family's health to a "handyman..."  Insist on hiring a Pro-Labs® supported IAC2 certified remediation contractor that has bonafide experience!   Click here to find an IAC2 certified individual in your area 



Landlord Alert! 2015 IECC Removes Historic Building Blanket Exemptions

Thought that hard-wired smoke detector installations and other costly code-compliance renovations were expensive, the new energy efficiency standards will soon be implemented.  How soon?  Anne Arundel County is holding a hearing this February to adopt new changes to the existing building codes, which will include adoption of the most recent version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC 2015).  This is a significant change for the county's owners of historic buildings.  Not on the historical register, not to worry, for the the definition of "historical" now covers virtually any residential structure under three stories tall (commerical standards apply to those).  Also, just as any change in ownership, configuration, or occupancy evokes the county requirements to upgrade smoke detectors, etc., just about any permitting "trigger" event could potentially bring with it the entire set of IECC requirements.  Of course, there is a way to defer or exempt a historic property from one or more of these new energy efficiency requirements.  Here's the gist of the new rules/process:

With the new 2015 IECC, historic buildings are no longer exempt. Instead alterations and repairs to historic buildings must comply with the IECC to the extent that such compliance does not compromise the historic nature and function of the building. Where compliance would compromise the historic nature or function of the building a report must be submitted to the code official from the owner, a registered design professional or representative of the historic preservation authority having jurisdiction.  IMT Energy Code Compliance Fact Sheet Link

In other words, a historic property owner must now seek a written exemption, which may or may not be granted, or comply with the new energy conservation code requirements.  Upgrading a property's insulation, fenestration (windows), etc. can result in a significant operating cost increase for a landlord--particularly if it is a typical "short-notice" triggering event, such as an unforeseen change in tenancy.  The potential upside is that a more energy efficient residence should be a more valuable rental asset in the long run and could be a significant marketing plus following completion.


We recommend hiring state certified/trained weatherization professionals if you're a rental property owner facing county mandated IECC upgrades.  This will ensure that you're getting the best value for your investment and it will also make the mandatory compliance inspections go a whole lot smoother.  A final word of advice, don't even think about doing these upgrades yourself or without pulling a permit.  We promise that you'll spend a whole lot more in time, aggrivation, and money than you could have possibly thought you were saving!

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Without Fools, There Would be no Wisdom...

a.k.a. "Why skimping on or foregoing a home inspection is rarely a bargain"

It pains us to have to be the bearer of bad news, yet we seem to be doing a lot more of it lately.  With YouTube and the plethora of "DIY" reality shows available, it would seem that the sky is the limit when it comes to doing things that a "professional" normally does--saving the cost of hiring them in the process.  At a minimum, the Internet can provide enough information to enable hiring a service provider or tradesman totally based upon the cost/price for their services.  Well, why that may be true to a degree, what is often overlooked are the more nuanced or non-routine conditions that may be encountered by the newly endowed DIYer or inexperienced  inspector sent out by the Realtor's referred franchise (many of whom are unlicensed and relatively untrained).  Unfortunately, it is in situations like these where the extra money paid for a professional inspection is more than worth it--especially if it prevents the purchase of a money pit or identifies a significant, extremely expensive defect.  Here are some examples from projects we've worked in the last year...


Don't worry, some bleach will fix it...

The new tenants noticed musty odors in the upstairs master bedroom and reported it to the property manager. Upon investigation, we discovered significant accumulations of mold in the attic--ultimately resulting in an extensive remediation project and insulation replacement.  The cause?  The landlord had hired "some guys standing in front of Home Depot" to put on a new asphalt shingle roof after noticing water staining upstairs.  They did it all right.  We counted three layers of shingles on the roof.  Coupled with the lack of ventilation and the exhausting of both the bathroom vent fans and the clothes dryer into the attic, the extra "blanket" of shingles made the attic a virtual petri dish.  I noted that the inspector the landlord used prior to the purchase of this property should be reported to the state, but, alas, there was no inspection done prior to settlement.  Put it this way, just the cost of putting his tenants up in the hotel exceeded the price of even the most expensive home inspector.  $400ish or $15,000+???  Seems abundantly clear in hindsight, doesn't it?

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Screw those guys! I found someone much cheaper on Craigslist...

We were called in to evaluate and remediate a moldy basement by a REO asset manager.  Upon inspection and sampling, we found several varieties of mold--a virtual cornucopia of fungus--growing wild and freely within.  The manager was furious!  Turns out he had hired another "mold inspector and remediation contractor" to do the same thing at that address and the problem apparently returned within 90 days.  He called us because (you guessed it) the previous guys were not to be found.  I asked him about the initial treatment mold test results from the previous job.  He stated that the "contractor" performed the testing and assured him that a proper remediation was completed.  He added that the photos supplied with the invoicing seemed convincing.  However, when I asked him if he verified the license and IAC2 certification or other credentials of his previous hire, he reluctantly admitted that he found the guy on Craigslist and went with him because there wasn't much time and this guy was way more cheaper than others he contacted at the time.  Our remediation status for that project is a year and counting w/o a reoccurrence.  However, you might say that our $10,000 invoice, coupled with the cost of the former "mystery contractor," certainly bears out the old adage of throwing good money after bad...


Does it seem cold in here to you?

Following the death of the homeowner, the executor asked us to "spruce up the place and prepare it for sale." Our standard practice is to perform a home inspection to inform and to properly scope the work in cases like this.   The executor informed us that she would not pay for an inspection as the deceased always kept the place up and, although it might be a bit dated, it was well maintained.  We told her the inspection was inclusive as part of our service agreement and she agreed.  It seemed initially that she might have been right until we went into the attic.  Turns out that the elderly, wheelchair bound homeowner had hired a "weatherization contractor" to insulate and seal the air gaps in his attic a few years ago.  We found the fiberglass batt insulation still neatly bundled and stacked in the attic--dusty and undisturbed.  The executor showed us the virtually illegible handwritten receipt, but the total dollar figure was plainly visible--$3,800...


What do you mean the deal is off?!?

A frustrated seller called us out to evaluate a derogatory home inspection report from the buyer's home inspector.  The buyers were threatening to cancel the purchase agreement if all identified defects were not corrected prior to closing, and the report listed over 20 items...  The seller had purchased the newly constructed house just three years previously and was understandably upset.  We found that all but two minor defects (hard to operate windows and a racked interior door frame) were bogus--including an "inoperable" garage door opener.  We produced and delivered the report to our client, who then refused to correct the imaginary defects. The buyers played hardball and demanded their earnest money back, and the house was sold to the contingency buyer.  The initial buyers were angry that they missed out, so they threatened to sue us.  What they should have done is sue their Realtor.  Under Maryland law, ANY referrals made by a Realtor to any party in the transaction MUST include the VERIFICATION of the referral's CURRENT license.  What an unfortunate waste of time and emotional energy: they would have been much better off if only they had hired an experienced, DLLR licensed inspector instead of their Realtor's bargain priced friend... 


Tenant Manipulation--What Landlords Need to Know

Customer complaints against contractors and landlords are legion, but what about those who are impossible to please or those who would lie, cheat, or steal to get even the slightest additional concession.  There's no "Yelp!" to warn about these people and many are adroit at hiding any issues of slow or no payment using aliases, frequently moving, and other tactics ad-infinitum.  Although not by any means all-inclusive, here are a few personalities that we've dealt with and continue to run across in our daily business operations...

I work hard for my money, and you don't... This individual is ticked off at the world because they have to get off the couch and go to work.  Typically the result of misplaced entitlement, this tenant believes that every rent check to their "fat cat" landlord should also come with a list of demands for new/upgraded appliances, alleged--frequently imaginary--required repairs, and the like.  It also frequently manifests itself in the form of late rent payments.  Left unaddressed, this behavior becomes so routine/ingrained that the property owner dreads the end of every month (and the inevitable drama associated with collecting their rent).  The best defense is a good offense--don't forget to check on their landlord or property management references BEFORE agreeing to the lease.  If it's too late for that, we've found that precise, through documentation is the only suitable strategy.  Never, ever waive the rent or the late fee if applicable--except in all but the most exigent, verified circumstances.  Once the lease expires or comes up for renewal, exercise your right as property owner to provide the statuatory notice and have them move out.  A word of caution, be aware that these individuals will fight tooth and nail for their security deposit--no matter how much damage they have done.  Arm yourself with a post tenancy inspection report from a qualified, licensed home inspector/general contractor.

I'll sue you for everything you have...  This is the more aggressive form of the behavior we just discussed.  Here, the individual is attempting to use FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) tactics to manipulate the landlord into meeting their demands.  By far the tactic we've seen most frequently involve alleged health effects caused by mold.  Frequently, the tenant will complain about mold (even creating conditions to cause it themselves) for the purpose of creating leverage against the property owner.  These complaints inevitably turn into threats and, in some cases, litigation or termination of rent payments.  Once again, the landlord's best defense is to hire a IAC2 (Indoor Air Quality Consultant) certified mold evaluator to conduct an appropriate test.  This action demonstrates that the alleged warranty of habilitability concerns are being taken seriously and that actions are being taken to address any problems.  Remember, mold inspections can be done legally by any licensed home improvement contractor--be sure to evaluate the bonafides of any firm you select to conduct these tests and/or remediation.  If it goes to litigation, you'll be glad you selected a professional firm with good credentials (vs. "Chuck in a truck").  The second trend in allegations are the usage of paints/chemicals containing VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).  This is especially prevalent in cases involving repair work done within an occupied unit.  Our advice is to discuss any required repairs with the tenant beforehand, and, if there's even the slightest concern related to VOCs, insist all repair work use low or zero-VOC materials.  These typically cost more, but the headaches (literally and figuratively) can cost much, much more.  Be sure the contractor/handyman you select is aware of and can demonstrate evidence (pictures and/or receipts) of using low or zero VOC materials during the repair work.

So what if you're the property owner.  The only thing that matters is what I want... Although this behavior is oft-times more subtle, it is by far the most prevalent that we encounter.  Typically using some pretext or excuse, such as "I couldn't reach you," these individuals will call out service providers, such as heating and air conditioning repairmen, and expect the landlord to pick up the tab w/o question or complaint.  Some are just irresponsible--bringing in pets without permission or subletting a bedroom to one of their friends "just until they get on their feet." We've even seen appliances and property damaged simply because the tenant wanted a newer one or one of a different design or color.  Above ground swimming pools, collections of derilict vehicles, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, dog kennels, the list is endless.  Moreover, the post-tenancy clean up or remediation of these tenant alterations can be extremely costly.  The best defense is to visit your property frequently and be on the look out for symptoms of unusual or suspect activities.  Be sensitive to the complaints of neighbors as well.  Frequently, they will be eager to alert the property owner of "things going on."

I'm entitled to live here for free if I feel I need to... Unlawfully detained property is emotionally gut wrenching and a property owner would do well to waive off on any applicant that has a history of rental judgments.  There is no excuse or story good enough to warrant a second/third/fourth, etc. chance--letting these individuals take possession of your property is fraught with peril.  So the best defense is good, effective tenant screening.  Sometimes, one will slip through or the individual will suddenly change due to one or more life circumstances.  In these extreme cases, we highly recommend extensive, rigorous documentation and/or consultation with counsel experienced in these matters.  Not just any attorney will do, we encourage you to select one that has experience in tenancy and eviction issues.  Once the inevitable eviction action begins, the problem tenant will frequently "self evict" before going through the entire process.  It is important to continue with the litigation however because it hinders their ability to pull off another "free stay" at the cost of yet another property owner.  A final word of caution.  Never, never, never include utilities in your rental lease agreement.  Problem tenants know all about the "constructive termination" rules and will gleefully run up the utilities knowing full well that the landlord will be the one paying them whilst being powerless to have them disconnected.


Image result for public domain images problem tenants

  Oh, but they were such nice people when they moved in!


Maryland Sale Threatened by Adverse Inspection Remarks?!? Fight Back!

I received a frantic phone call yesterday from a homeowner selling their new construction home in Annapolis (it was just two years old).  It seems the unlicensed home inspector sent out by the realtor referred franchise had called out a significant defect related to the compressors on the split system, high-efficiency HVAC units.  The exact veribiage used was "Low improper running load amp detected when tested.  The running load amp (RLA) is 12.8, and the measured amperage is 3.9."  The buyer was understandably upset that there could be something apparantly so significantly wrong with their "turn key" home, and the seller was concerned that the contract would be broken due to the inspection contingency clause.  My task, evaluate the HVAC system and the summary report to determine what, if anything, was wrong...  What follows is an excerpt from my narrative to the homeowner:


"The HVAC system ran properly using normal controls. There were no observable defects during operation, nor were there any observable defects in the system installation on day of evaluation. The filters and registers are moderately dirty and in need of routine replacement and cleaning. Reasoning behind “defects” cited in summary report are questionable. For example, COMAR does not require measurement of amperage as part of a home inspection evaluation of an HVAC system. There are actually good reasons for this. In this particular case, the inspector evaluating a two year old high efficiency unit is particularly misguided/wrong. RLA: is actually the acronym for "rated load amps--the maximum current a compressor should draw under any operating conditions.” Often mistakenly called running load amps which leads people to believe, incorrectly, that the compressor should always pull these amps. You should never use the listed RLA to determine if the compressor is running properly or to condemn a compressor. The running amps of a compressor are determined by the evaporator temperature, condensing temperature and the line voltage, and RLA has no bearing on the reading taken at any point in the HVAC unit’s operational cycle. RLA is only supposed to be used to properly size the components of the supporting branch circuit, not for a technician to use for evaluation of its running characteristics. Not only that, but figure the astronomically high odds of both compressors failing at the exact same time –not likely indeed."


The COMAR clearly states what is expected in a home inspection, and inspectors who depart from these requirements do so at their own peril.  For example, there were other "defects" that were mentioned, such as the unsafe garage door openers, but the "inspector" failed to test them properly and they worked just fine.  In total, there were two out of a dozen alleged defects that were legitimate--a whopping 17% accuracy rate...  Would you willingly pay $200-400 for an inspection with less than a 20 percent accuracy rate?!?  Of course not, but when you hire any inspector referred by a realtor or who works for a franchise, that's what you're getting oft times.  Be a smart consumer and hire your own professional...

For the other guy who called me yesterday wanting me to cut my inspection rate in half; ya'll keep hiring these $200 inspectors.  I love reading their made-up doo-doo, and their inability to get up on a roof or enter a crawl space is laughable as well.  If you find yourself in a "bufoon generated sales crisis" or a similar situation, give me a call.  No deal should be needlessly jeapordized by a bloviating, arrogant "inspector" who obviously lacks proper training and/or experience (much less licensure)!

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