June 20, 2018
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Tenant’s court-approved deal in mold lawsuit in limbo

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — A court-approved mediated agreement between a woman who said she suffered serious health problems from years of mold contamination in her government-subsidized apartment may have hit a snag.

The attorney for tenant Catherine Harriman, however, maintains there is a binding agreement and she has asked the court to award attorney fees incurred for trying to enforce the deal.

A Knox County Superior Court judge approved in November a mediated agreement between Harriman, the apartment owners Richard and Mary Nightingale of Rockland and the property managers Sumner and Marjorie Kinney of Kinney Rentals.

The landlords and property managers agreed to pay $20,000 to Harriman over her complaint that there was extensive mold contamination for several years at the apartment on Water Street in Thomaston.

And as part of the settlement, the Nightingales and Kinneys agreed to remove any mold problems.

In a motion filed Feb. 15 by Harriman’s attorney Erielle Dexter, the attorney said she was informed by the Kinneys’ attorney that the case was at a “dead end” because the Nightingales attorney would not release his clients from liability.

“While defendants are using their unresolved dispute as a basis for noncompliance with the mediated agreement and court order, this is clearly a collateral issue which is beyond the scope of the agreement entered into between the plaintiffs and defendants,” Dexter’s motion states.

Attorney Joseph Baiungo of Belfast, who represents the Nightingales, said he had no comment on the claims.

“It’s very disturbing to the Nightingales on how this case has progressed,” Baiungo said.

The Kinneys’ attorney Neil Shankman, said Friday that without the release of liability for the Kinneys from the Nightingales, the entire case may have to go to litigation. Shankman said his clients have denied any liability and said there is enormous documentation to support their position.

He said a decision was made to settle for $20,000 because that would be less expensive than continuing with the litigation.

Harriman claimed in the lawsuit, filed in June 2011, that she was given an eviction notice from the apartment after a complaint was filed with the federal government about the mold in the government-subsidized unit. Harriman began leasing an apartment on Water Street from Kinney Rentals and the Nightingales in August 2005. The apartments are financed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development voucher program.

Harriman claims that starting in early 2006 she noticed mold in the corner of the walls of the apartment, which she cleaned with bleach. Harriman said mold reappeared in the spring of 2007 in the same corners and in new locations. She stated that she reported the mold to Marjorie Kinney during Kinney’s inspection of the apartment in 2007. The tenant stated that she again cleaned the mold by herself with bleach.

In 2008, the mold re-emerged and was more extensive than in the past two years. Harriman stated she reported the mold to Marjorie Kinney during her 2008 inspection. Harriman stated that the response she received from Kinney Rentals was that it was the tenant’s fault because there was too much clutter and not enough cleaning. Harriman stated she felt embarrassed, belittled, put down and intimidated by the response.

Beginning in 2008, Harriman said she began experiencing health problems including severe edema, increased thirst and shortness of breath. The shortness of breath was so severe that she had to go outside for fresh air to breath normally.

In the spring of 2010, Harriman said she noticed much of her clothing and personal belongings in a closet were covered with mold. She attempted to clean the closet but most of the belongings, including her wedding dress, were ruined from the mold. She reported the problem to Kinney who again blamed it on clutter, according to the lawsuit.

In the spring of 2011, Harriman said her breathing problems became worse and her physician expressed concern about her condition.

Harriman’s mother contacted the U.S. Rural Development office in Bangor to report the mold problem and the failure of the Kinneys to find alternate housing for her daughter. The mother also took photographs of the mold and gave copies to Sumner Kinney, the lawsuit states.

In April, Rural Development said the Kinneys had agreed to have Harriman stay at the Trade Winds Motor Inn in Rockland while the mold problem was being fixed. After two weeks, she was told by the Trade Winds that she had to vacate the hotel room and she believed that this meant her apartment had been repaired. But she said when she returned to the apartment, mold was still present and construction was ongoing. Harriman withheld April and May rent payments because of the problem, the suit states.

Harriman stated she hired Air Quality Management Services Inc. of Lewiston to do an assessment of the apartment and its test found that the results were staggering.

Harriman was then served with a seven-day notice to leave the apartment on May 19.

Harriman claimed negligence, breach of implied warranty, breach of contract, illegal eviction, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Shankman said Harriman no longer lives in the apartment. She could not be reached for comment. A telephone message left with her attorney was not returned Friday.

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