EAST MANATEE -- Two families with homes in the River Strand community filed a lawsuit in Manatee County court Friday accusing Naples-based Conditioned Air of installing oversized air conditioning systems they claim caused severe mold outbreaks in their units.
R.J. and Sharon Dominic, snowbirds from Ocean View, Del., spent more than $30,000 last year to remediate mold that smothered their furniture, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, lamps, clothing and electronics, the Herald has previously reported. The other family, Louie and Anita Podolinsky, part-time residents of Canada, spent $50,000 to clean up a black mold mess in August.
"The air conditioning system designed and installed by the defendant ... was not fit in that the tonnage of the system was substantially oversized." the lawsuit says. "The excessive humidity ... caused by the short-cycling of the air-conditioning unit caused a major mold outbreak."
The families are suing for damages, costs and interest. The suit does not state an exact amount.
Lennar, the condo developer, has declined to reimburse the families for costs associated with the mold, claiming they left the unit for long periods without taking proper precautions.
"It's a shame that Lennar refuses to take responsibility for it," said Alan Tannenbaum, a construction lawyer representing the families. "At the same time, we put Conditioned Air of Naples on notice because they're the contractor that did calculations and installed oversized equipment. They've refused to take responsibility, and we're filing suit."
Calls and emails to Lennar spokesman Marshall Ames and Darin McMurray, division president, were not
returned since Friday.
The Dominics hired Sarasota-based ESC Energy and Sustainability Consultants and Bradenton-based Air Quality Management Services to inspect their condo. Their reports confirmed that the problem stems from 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 the ESC report, the Dominics' unit requires a system size of just under 1 ton, or 36 percent smaller than what is installed.
The equipment may also violate Florida Building Code. The home has a sensible cooling load of 13030 Btuh (British thermal units per hour), but the equipment installed has a sensible load of 17770 Btuh, the report says. Building code requires "total capacity less than the calculated total load, but not more than 1.15 times greater than the total load calculated."
Keith Walker, president and chief operating officer of Conditioned Air, maintains that the company installed units that passed a Manatee County inspection and were compatible with Florida Building Code.
"During the process of installation, the municipality inspects our work after we finish putting it in, and we passed inspection," he said. "I can tell you that we've done literally thousands of these units, and we've never had a problem. We don't do work unless there's a properly issued permit."
Conditioned Air, a business in its 52nd year, has been working with Lennar for more than 10 years, Walker said.
The Podolinskys' unit at 7149 River Hammock Drive passed a final mechanical inspection by Manatee County on Oct. 29, 2012, according to records obtained by the Herald. The Dominics home at 7205 River Hammock Drive also passed a final mechanical inspection on Nov. 26, 2012.
Less than a year later, the interior of their homes were coated in mold.
John Barnott, director of Manatee County's building and development services department, said the county conducted a full inspection of each unit, but said he could not answer specific questions on the case without consulting his staff.
Louie Podolinsky, husband to Anita Podolinsky who is listed on the suit along with their son and daughter, said he is alerting the Canadian Snowbird Association of the ongoing issue to warn other Canadians who may be looking to purchase property in River Strand. The CSA, a nonprofit advocacy organization, has 70,000 members.
"In that case," he said. "Lennar could see a small housing problem with sales."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.