GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Imagine paying more than $1,400 in monthly rent for years, only to find black mold growing throughout your home. That is the reality for a family in West Michigan, who said they’re dealing with medical issues as a result. They say the property owner offered them a new place but asked them to stay quiet about the issue. That’s when the 13 ON YOUR SIDE HELP Team got involved.
Melanie Baker and her fiancé Cory Holbrook have lived in a manufactured home at Tallmadge Meadows for almost five years. Their 3-year-old daughter and Baker’s 17-year-old also called it home, until recently. In late December, lab tests came back showing mold was found in nearly every corner of home. That’s when they began throwing out their belongings and looking for new housing options.
“It's our personal nightmare,” Baker said. “I have not seen horror movies that have scared me as much as what we have found in this house.”
She said they dealt with water damage just a few months after moving into the home, then noticed the mold about two and a half years ago in the roof and one of the closets.
“That’s the only place we thought it was,” Baker said.
“We submitted the forms to the park to have the repairs done,” Holbrook said. “The park said ‘bare with us, we only have one maintenance manager and so many parks.’”
They said they tried to be patient, waiting months for help, but they said the problem was never addressed.
“They keep hiring and firing managers and maintenance men, and nobody picks up the load from the person before,” Baker said.
13 ON YOUR SIDE also spoke with Elton Sleet, a former maintenance employee for Tallmadge Meadows, who said he worked for the company until last November. Sleet said he was told not to address any issues in Baker’s unit until after she moved out.
“I guess the regional manager was trying to get her out of the park, for some reason,” Sleet said.
Baker said management accused her of harassing them because she kept making maintenance requests. Meanwhile, the mold continued to grow, affecting the whole family.
“We’ve been living here being poisoned since we moved in,” Baker said.
She said the family has dealt with a variety of medical issues, everything from rashes to respiratory issues. But, they said, their 3-year-old daughter Nyenieve has gotten the worst of it, constantly being treated by the doctor.
“She’s had breathing problems her whole life,” Holbrook said. “We have brought her in multiple times every month and we never knew where it was stemming from. We had no idea.”
“She has so many specialists, it’s unreal,” Baker said. “It’s broken my heart knowing that we're the ones to protect her, and we thought we had been. We didn't know until we got the report that all of her conditions were contributed to this.”
Baker and Holbrook said they did not realize the mold problem had gotten worse until late last year when a bookshelf fell over, exposing a patch of mold on the bedroom wall. At that point, they said they started moving other furniture around, and they kept finding mold.
“It was everywhere,” Baker said. “Behind the sofas, in the pantry, in the cupboards.”
That’s when they decided to bypass management, they said, and get an official mold test. According to a lab report from IMS Laboratory, mold samples were collected on Dec. 27, 2022. The samples were analyzed on Dec. 29, and the report was released on Dec. 30, confirming the presence of mold—specifically Chaetomium, Stachybotrys, and a cluster of spores identified as the Pen/Asp group.
“The spores of the genera Penicillium, Aspergillus and Trichoderma are quite similar when viewed under a microscope and are grouped together under the heading Pen/Asp,” the report states.
After getting confirmation of the mold, Baker and Holbrook said the children were immediately sent to live with their grandparents. But, they said, it wasn’t so simple for them to uproot.
“It's so hard because we have three dogs," Baker said. “No one wants to rent to you when you have three dogs.”
The management team at Tallmadge Meadows said they offered the family a new home at a reduced rate, but the family declined the offer. Baker said she worried the mold would just be painted over, and another family would be moved into the home.
“It needs to be condemned,” Baker said. “It needs to be completely ripped out of there and junked. We are horrified that someone's going to move in there afterward. That's why I'm fighting, trying to get it condemned so that they can never rent that out to another family.”
The management company at Tallmadge Meadows declined our request for an interview. In a prepared statement, they said the family was offered a 6-month-old home that only had one previous resident. They said they also offered the family permanent reduced rent and a suspension of three months' rent to cover moving expenses and to replace home furnishings.
The family recently started a GoFundMe page with a goal of $100,000. The page states, “We are asking for help to find a safe living environment and aid in hiring an attorney to represent us.”
Jay and Charlie may be the faces of the HELP Team, but there are more members behind the scenes working to get the job done. HELP Team stories can be seen on weekdays at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and at www.13HelpTeam.com. People are encouraged to contact the HELP Team by calling 616-559-1313 and leaving a message or emailing email@example.com.
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