River Strand residents angry after new Lennar condos show mold

srocco@bradenton.comDecember 10, 2013 

EAST MANATEE -- RJ and Sharon Dominic bought a new condo this year in the River Strand community to fulfill their dreams of warm Florida winters away from their home in Ocean View, Del.

They planned to make the 1,450-square-foot oasis their permanent home. After all, there is a golf course in the neighborhood and family just a few miles away.

But now the Dominics are looking to sell their condo after they say a faulty air-conditioning system caused a mold outbreak. As of this week, the couple has spent more than $30,000 to remediate the mold. And other residents in the Verandas condos say they've had similar mold issues.

Lennar, the condo developer, has declined to reimburse the Dominics for costs associated with the mold, claiming they left the unit for long periods without taking proper precautions.

"Lennar is not responsible for any of the alleged defects or deficiencies; and rejects the demands set forth in your letter," wrote Lennar attorney C. David Harper after the Dominics' attorney requested reimbursement.

Miami-based Lennar has been building single family homes, townhomes and condominiums since 1954. The company operates in Florida and 17 other states.

The Dominics hired Sarasota-based ESC Energy and Sustainability Consultants and Bradenton-based Air Quality Management Services to inspect their condo. The inspectors concluded the problem stems from a design flaw allowing installation of oversized air conditioning units. The Dominics' two-bedroom, two-bath home contains a 2-ton air conditioning system suitable for a much larger home, records show.

According to ESC, the

Dominic's unit requires a system size of just under 1 ton, or 36 percent smaller than what is installed.

The equipment also violates the Florida Building Code. The unit has a sensible cooling load of 13030 (British thermal units per hour), but the equipment installed has a sensible capacity of 17770 Btuh. The building code requires "total capacity less than the calculated total load, but not more than 1.15 times greater than the total load calculated."

"That was one of the main causes of the issue they're having: an oversized air conditioning system with no other means of dehumidifying the space," said Karl White, an inspector with ESC.

John Barnott, director of Manatee County's building and development services department, could not be reached for comment Monday. Nick Azzara, county spokesman, said building officials plan to visit the site soon.

The couple bought their condo for nearly $185,000 in February and left two months later in April. Prior to leaving, they installed a humidistat and asked a neighbor to check on the home every week.

"We've had seasonal homes since the 1980s, so this is not our first seasonal home," said RJ Dominic, 66. "We're well aware of how to take care of issues when we're away."

Over the July 4 weekend, the neighbor, Jill Flores, came into the unit to find mold going up and down the walls, all over the kitchen and throughout the house.

"The temperature was the same as it always was, and there were black spots on the ceiling and on the trim," Flores said. The Dominics had been gone several weeks, she added.

"It appears that a failure with the air handler may have occurred and that a rise in humidity was the cause of damages noted," states a mold damage assessment prepared by Air Quality Management Services. "It is also possible that the unit cools quickly causing it to short cycle and not run long enough to control humidity."

The report states "widespread mold growth" was found on hard and soft furnishings, fixtures, kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanity cabinets, appliance surfaces, window dressings, lamps, shades, clothing, personal items, electronics, inside the air handler and duct work, bedding and around door frames.

Darin McMurray, division president for Lennar, maintains the outbreak was caused by the Dominics' long-term absence and improper use of their newly installed humidistat.

"After investigating the A/C system, we found that the A/C system seems to be working properly. We believe that the homeowner didn't operate the system correctly," McMurray said. "If we need to get a second opinion, we'd be more than happy to."

Resident Louie Podolinsky, 54, and his wife, Anita, also bought their condo as a vacation home in February. The Podolinskys, who mostly live in Petrolia, Ontario, Canada, left the unit in March and returned in August to clean up a black mold mess they say cost them $50,000 to remediate between repairs and replacing damaged items.

Louie Podolinsky said he also wants reimbursement.

"I want Lennar to compensate me for my losses and fix everything so it works, then worry about all the neighbors because they will have the same problem," he said.

RJ Dominic is hoping to get his $30,000 back and sell his home as soon as possible.

"I'd like to be out of this condo," he said.

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.

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