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By Kelly Vance, Attorney at Law

Oregon mold cases are a relatively recent development, which seems strange when you consider the long rainy winters and the construction industry’s longstanding proclivity to build year-round here. I suspect that many people that suffered from mold exposure in the past had blamed their symptoms on other things, like seasonal allergies. There is a great deal of grass seed farming in Oregon, particularly in the Willamette Valley. Oregon, particularly Western Oregon, is a land of lush vegetation and many Oregonians come down with hay fever and allergies in the spring and fall. But recently we have begun to suspect that not all of these hay fever-like symptoms are caused by allergies.

There is a growing awareness in the Northwest that shoddy construction practices and landlords who refuse to properly maintain their apartment houses may be responsible for an increase in mold problems in recent years. In the case of a mold problem arising in a landlord-tenant context, landlords often benefit from the fact that tenants do not have sufficient funds to hire experts to conduct testing and to testify in court that the apartment or rental home made them ill. If a tenant had those kinds of assets, they could own their own homes. Many times tenants who consult an attorney are most concerned with getting their security deposit back if they break their leases. But that may be the least of their worries. They may have sick children and a need to relocate to new quarters, often immediately.

With homeowners who are the victims of shoddy construction, it is sometimes, but not always, a different story. Many times homeowners with considerable equity in their houses find themselves having to move out of a house that makes them ill, and into temporary rental quarters. Often, they have the financial ability to hire necessary experts, but not to repair their homes. Most Oregon homeowners insurer’s policies have exclusions for faulty and defective construction or repairs. This means they have to look towards the construction contractor who built their homes for a remedy.

A latent defect can go undiscovered for many years, however, and Oregon has a ten year statute of repose which bars any claims against the contractor ten years after the house was built. In addition, under a new “Right to Repair Law” Oregon homeowners are required to give written notice of the defects in the house to the contractor and provide the contractor an opportunity to inspect and repair the damage, or offer a settlement. Most homeowners dislike the new law. They feel that the contractor is the cause of the problem and do not trust him to correct his own mistake. In fact, by this time, the contractor has moved on to new jobs and views going back to repair former work as an inconvenience. For that reason, many contractors either inspect and offer no solution, or offer a minor repair instead of what may be necessary to correct the problem and prevent it from recurring. The more “old school” contractors who still take pride in their workmanship are less likely to build a house with water intrusion problems and more willing to correct the problem if it arises. But those contractors are rare these days. They have been replaced by a new breed that emphasizes new methods and materials that promote speedier work and greater volume. That often leads to corner cutting as they continue to work in wet winter weather and hurry towards completion without making certain that the building materials are thoroughly dried.

Homeowners who move out of their homes and end up filing a lawsuit find to their dismay that it takes time for the case to make its way through the court system. They may end up paying rent for their new abode and their house payment for many months or even a year or two. Homeowners who do not have significant equity in their homes may turn the keys in to their lenders, damaging their credit for years. Homeowners who have greater equity and a greater interest in repairing the house may still lose the house as the cost of litigation eats up their financial assets.

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