Family Finds A Secret Room Filled With Toxic Mold In New House

Jason and Kerri Brown of Greenville, S.C. found a secret room, hidden behind a bookcase, in their newly purchased home. When they entered the room, they found a note that said “You found it!”

Sadly for the Browns, they weren’t living in their own Nancy Drew mystery, but in a property so filled with toxic mold that it had forced the previous owners to abandon the house, leaving only a note for the next owner.

Fun.

From WYFF:

The secret room in the old mill home on Whitten Street in Greenville’s Dunean section contained a handwritten letter from the previous owner titled, “You Found It!”

“Hello. If you’re reading this, then you found the secret room. I owned this house for a short while and it was discovered to have a serious mold problem. One that actually made my children very sick to the point that we had to move out,” Kerri Brown read from the letter.

According to the note, there was so much mold, it made the last family who lived there sick, and they were forced to move out.

The Browns later learned the home contained the worst types of mold including Stachybotrys, the so-called Toxic Black Mold.

At first the family was skeptical, so they had the house tested and sure enough—there was mold. Now they’re suing to get their money back, claiming that the Realtor knew that the home was infected with the mold of doom. Here’s the best part of the story. It turns out that the note writer, rather than being evil, is actually something of a hero:

And what about the man who left them the note in the secret room behind the bookshelf? Was he to blame for any of this? After all, who leaves a note?

Meet the author of the note, George Leventis.

“I didn’t mean it to scare the Browns, which I think it did when they first read it,” Leventis said. “If I didn’t write it, it would easily happen again.”

Leventis and his family were the first to discover the horrible secret of Number 6 Whitten Street. There is no indication the previous owner was aware of any mold.

“I’ve never seen my kids that sick. And it was scary,” Tricia Leventis said in tears.

According to Tricia, she and their two young daughters became desperately ill, and said doctors told them to leave the home immediately.

“It was adamant. Absolutely, get out,” Leventis said. “It was to the point where my youngest was so sick, she was unable to hold any nutrition, nothing was working, she couldn’t breathe.”

The Leventises did the only thing they believed they could do, with no money in savings to have the mold removed. They stopped paying their mortgage and let the home go into foreclosure.

But George Leventis knew the home someday could be re-sold, and he wanted to be sure the future owners knew about the mold. Leventis said what better way to warn them than to leave a note hidden from plain view.

“I put it in the room because I didn’t want anyone to find it if it was left out in the house. I figured if someone else who had another interest or a stake in the house found it, they would just throw it away or they wouldn’t tell anyone,” Leventis said.

The Browns say that is exactly what happened, and say if not for the note, their child may have become sick as well.

“I’m very thankful he left the note. In my opinion, there’s a possibility he could have saved Megan’s life,” Kerri Brown said.

In the meantime, the Browns said there is no chance of saving the home on Whitten Street with the “secret room.”

“The bottom line is it costs almost as much to fix it as the house is valued,” Jason Brown said. “We’re having to pay a mortgage on a house we can’t even live in.”

“We want them to make it right, and to take responsibility for what they did,” said wife Kerri.

Fannie Mae has agreed to buy back the home for its cost, $75,000, and in return will be dropped from the lawsuit. Century 21 Flynn & Youngblood and Realtor Sue Bakx, however, are still on the hook.

Hidden Room, Hidden Danger [WYFF]
(Photo:Wikipedia)

Comments

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  1. target38 says:

    too bad “toxic mold” is a total utter farce. all any variety of mold can do is cause a mild allergenic reaction… show me one documented case of actual permanent harm coming from mold exposure. That’s right, there are none. Ask any competent neurologist – there’s no such thing as mold that causes brain damage.

  2. Manok says:

    My neighbors are suing the builders of their townhome that has been covered in mold. They are older and their medical conditions have been medically linked to the mold, so this story is indeed fact. They won their lawsuit and the three houses next to them also either sold their homes or had them bought back.

    Problem was due to a drainage issue and water staying in their crawlspace and not draining, etc.

  3. wring says:

    @target38: wow “mild allergenic reaction”. obviously you’ve never had allergies.

  4. chartrule says:

    Most household molds are made of microscopic yeasts and mold species. They cause health problems (respiratory problems in particular) by releasing microscopic spores into the air, which carry mycotoxins, which cause the spore to be allergenic (allergy-causing) and toxic. These airborne spores stay alive by consuming nutrients from organic material, which is readily found in the home. These include wood, paper, dust, food, etc.

    Mold spores are small enough to remain airborne, and enter the respiratory through inhalation. The mycotoxin carried by the spore then causes toxic and allergic reactions when inside the air ways and respiratory system. This results in illness and breathing problems for those who suffer from any type of respiratory-related condition, such as asthma, allergies, nasal infections, COPD, emphysema, etc.

    Stachybotrys Mold (the “deadly” mold)

    Stachybotrys causes bleeding in the lungs. This can be fatal for infants and pregnant women. The Stachybotrys mold spores are inhaled into the lungs, where they weaken the blood vessels, which causes the lungs to bleed. Coughing up blood and frequent nosebleeds are symptoms of stachybotrys poisening. Stachybotrys is found in wet areas, such as places affected by leaky pipes, or within or on walls exposed to excessive moisture. Stachybotrys mold is wet, black, and slimy, and it smears when touched.

  5. savdavid says:

    I found this at [www.environmentaldiseases.com]
    The role of indoor molds, especially the most toxic one – Stachybotrys, has been evaluated in a scientific paper published in the journal Pediatrics. [7] The authors described a child with pulmonary hemorrhaging where Stachybotrys was isolated from the lung. Indeed, epidemiological data to support the connection between toxic mold exposure and lung hemorrhage was published in the scientific literature from Cleveland, Ohio, which was later examined and criticized by the Center for Disease Control. [8],[9] The study by Elidemir et al. shows the isolation of the toxic mold Stachybotrys atra from the BAL fluid of a child with pulmonary hemorrhage, thus connecting the epidemiological data and the historical data in this case report with objective findings of Stachybotrys from lung fluids.

  6. BigNutty says:

    If this guy was really a “hero” he should have called the media and anyone else that would listen. To allow someone else to go through this is criminal.

    Whether the mold actually hurts you or not, he truly believed it hurt his kids and should not have let any other kids move into that house.

  7. fileunder says:

    mold aside, how freaking awesome to find a secret room in your new house?!?

  8. @target38 i saw a documentary about a series of deaths among children in Cleveland Ohio who mysteriously died. Investigators eventually traced it to black mold in their house. Go back to medical school asshat

  9. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    @BigNutty: I was thinking the same thing. He should have called any and everybody who would listen about the presence of mold. Isn’t there an authority to logs a condition of houses, like the county assessor or city planner? Who would you normally contact if a house isn’t up to code or has burned down? There’s got to be some records somewhere.

    That being said, someone in the pipeline (realtor, broker, et al) had to have known about the mold.

  10. homerjay says:

    @fileunder: I had a secret room in my house growing up. There was a false wall in my bedroom closet. Its where I kept my stash of… well, anyway, it was cool to have a secret room!

  11. here’s a page about the story of the children that died in Cleveland, Ohio: [moldtestkit.com]

    16 children died. Try telling their parents that toxic mold is an utter farce.

  12. homerjay says:

    @target38: After reading your other comments you clearly work in the insurance industry and directly benefit from trying your damndest to get people to believe that there is no problem with having mold in their house.

  13. JohnMc says:

    Ok, the mold thing is a health problem. But I want to take this a different direction. These days it is illegal to sell a home where there are existing conditions known by the seller. Now the typical defense has been to just stay mute about such things. If the buyer or their representatives discovers something then the buyer has to validate it.

    That is what is so critical about the note. That note is a printed admission that the seller knew this and withheld it. The buyer if they wanted to could take the seller to court for all damages, etc. Buyer would have to determine if it is worth it.

    But that is the buyers option.

  14. BlondeGrlz says:

    In my state we have a separate mold disclosure form in addition to a property condition disclosure than Realtors use. But most of the time when a bank takes a house it is sold “as-is no disclosures” because the bank doesn’t want to be on the hook for that stuff. I would recommend that ANY buyer get a thorough inspection from a licensed, reliable inspector, even if the results are just for your own knowledge and can’t be used in negotiation. Still, I’m glad Fannie Mae bought it back. Poor people.

  15. Macroy says:

    And that’s why you always leave a note.

  16. humphrmi says:

    @fileunder: He abandoned the title and let it go into voluntary foreclosure. He wasn’t involved in the sale of the house.

  17. Groovymarlin says:

    @JohnMc: the person who left the note was not the seller. The home was foreclosed on and the bank was the owner, and therefore the seller. And not surprisingly, they have settled. The guy who left the note was simply the previous owner, though I agree – he should have gone to the media.

    As far as the new buyers, I actually don’t feel too sorry for them – this is why you always, ALWAYS have a home inspection before buying any house. Spend the $200-300 for a damn home inspector and save yourself the possible ruinous financial loss and health problems, dummies!

    Now there is always the possibility that these folks DID get a home inspection, and the inspector either missed the mold or noticed it but neglected to tell them (maybe he was referred by the bank or the broker for instance). If either of those situations is the case, they should consider suing the inspector, too!

  18. fileunder says:

    @homerjay:
    legos? me too!

  19. JiminyChristmas says:

    @JohnMc: These days it is illegal to sell a home where there are existing conditions known by the seller.

    One would like to think so, but that’s not exactly true. Seller’s disclosure laws, where they exist at all, vary wildly by state. Some states have no requirements at all, though South Carolina does have one.

    The other tricky thing about your statement: The person who wrote the note was not the seller. The house was a foreclosure sale, so the seller was the bank. Did the foreclosed owner notify the bank of the mold problem? It doesn’t appear so. Ergo, it’s plausible that neither the bank nor the realtors had knowledge of the secret room o’ mold.

  20. JiminyChristmas says:

    @Groovymarlin: The linked article clearly states that the buyers had a home inspection.

    Unless the buyer pays for, and the seller consents to, some sort of super deluxe home inspection the standard one won’t detect mold unless it’s plainly visible. There’s no way to ‘certify’ a house as mold-free unless you poke a hole in every cavity where mold could possibly live and take a look.

  21. Baz says:

    @fileunder:

    Even better, a “Secret Room of Death”!

  22. sibertater says:

    @target38:

    Yeah, mold can make you sick. Very, very sick. It can cause respiratory issues for a long time after you’re “cured.”

  23. celer says:

    Ok, so having something very similar happen to me I’ll chime in. I bought my first house a few years ago. The sellers conveniently placed a few of their moving boxes up against a wall in the finished basement of the house, along with a house plant strategicly placed in the corner of a room. So when the home inspection and the termite inspection happened, neither of these guys were able to move the boxes, and my realtor didn’t push the issue.

    And you can bet the inspectors have disclaimers that say, they aren’t liable for missing problems if they can’t get to the area in need of inspection.

    Anyways so a week after I move into the house I discovered a massive termite infestation and toxic mold problem. My foot went through the floor the first week I owned the house (house plant…). So now I went about trying to sue the sellers, unfortunately in my state the laws didn’t support a lawsuit against the sellers. (This was after talking to numerous lawyers)

    So in the end I still own the house, I have resolved many of the problems, but at great cost and stress.

    Unfortunately I think this could have happened to anyone, because most people probably wouldn’t have had the experience to require the seller to move all their stuff for inspection purposes.

    So I can see how this could happen.

  24. motherwell says:

    @Macroy: I chuckled.

  25. bohemian says:

    The bank that knowingly resold the house is at fault. Someone at the bank knew why the previous owner allowed it to go into foreclosure.

  26. coffee177 says:

    Ok, If mold is not a problem or health hazzard then why do they wear suits when they go in to treat for it?

    Hummm….

  27. ahwannabe says:

    Somebody’s got to hire Tony the Torch and put an end to this problem once and for all.

  28. drjayphd says:

    @Baz: Boo unnecessary Room of Death! Hooray, beer!

    (Editor’s note: The preceding comment may have been the result of brain damage from a mold-infested closet. Yeah, I don’t see my parents doing anything about it.)

  29. suburbancowboy says:

    Even more shocking than the secret moldy room is that the house was $75,000 Where I live, you would be lucky to get a one car garage for 75k. People around here would probably take the mold and any accompanying illnesses to get a house for that price.

  30. swalve says:

    @celer: You paid for a home inspection and the guy didn’t find termites? He didn’t move a houseplant that was covering a hole in the floor? How in the heck do you buy a house with that much trouble and not know it?

    If mold is so bad, why are we only finding out about it recently?

    @coffee177: Safety theater. You’re paying a lot of money to have this toxic substance abated, you don’t want Carl Spackler walking through the place. You want the place to look like Elliot’s house in ET.

  31. synergy says:

    AHA! Effing Sallie Mae AGAIN. Someone needs to put a stop to that woman! heh

  32. Womblebug says:

    @celer: I am sorry. We had some issues with our house, between unethical sellers and blind home inspectors, but nothing like what you had.

    In my state, the seller is required to have a termite bond on the property at time of sale certifying no active infestation. Does your state not require this? If not, and your area is at risk, I’d make sure the next seller had one regardless of state law. At minimum, you can be sure you won’t screw the next guy the way it happened to you. We keep trying to take solace in that. =P

  33. brainologist says:

    @target38: You couldn’t be more wrong. Here’s a case of an otherwise healthy man who died from cerebral aspergillosis: (Traboulsi et al. 2007, Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis.).
    To save you the trouble of asking “any competent neurologist”, that would be a disease of the brain, caused by mold. I’d say death is a pretty good example of “actual permanent harm coming from mold exposure.”

    (Although neural mycoses do seem pretty rare, in science and medicine you should know it’s awfully bold to say “never”).

  34. goller321 says:

    In my area, a couple years ago, a family discovered they had Stachybotrys throughout the house and their insurance refused to cover the remediation. The city condemned it and tore it down. The family home was valued at $400K, which around here was a very nice house. Never found out what happened in the end, but just an FYI, most insurance companies wouldn’t touch you if they found out there is mold- better to “accidentally” find a was for the house to burn to the ground…

  35. I can possibly clear something up here. The first owners (the ones who left the note) know my wife. She tells me they did get the house inspected, but the setup was such that the inspector did not find the “secret” room. Sometime before they were interested in the house, documents on the house were changed fudging the interior square footage. Since there was no mention of a hidden room, and all listed square footage was accounted for, everything seemed okay.

    I’m guessing that is why Century 21 and the agent are still on the lawsuit, for intentionally trying to conceal a known problem.

    Anyway, that’s my guess, and all info is third hand, so take it with as much salt as necessary.

  36. Parting says:

    @goller321: Maybe the previous owner should have torched the house ;)

  37. a says:

    “I owned this house for a short while and it was discovered to have a serious mold problem. One that actually made my children very sick to the point that we had to move out,” Kerri Brown read from the letter.

    According to the note, there was so much mold, it made the last family who lived there sick, and they were forced to move out.

    Haha! Did anyone else get deja vu after that second peragraph?
    (Didn’t you just ask me that?)

  38. junkmail says:

    FYI, home inspections are NOT all they’re cracked up to be. You should still get one, (for a multitude of reasons,) but don’t think for a second that it is a complete and exhaustive examination of all possible problems that exist with the house. Most home inspection contracts openly specify that only VISIBLE problems will be documented, and that the inspector will NOT be liable should problems be found later, (even visible ones). This probably varies state by state, but I was pretty shocked at how useless the inspector was when we bought our first home. Ridiculously obvious things were ignored, (even when the inspector was questioned directly). Thank God it wasn’t anything serious, but nonetheless.

    Termites and mold should be checked for separately by a qualified professional. It’s definitely worth the extra expense.

    That being said, I just wanted to add to the comments regarding Target38’s asshattery: Didn’t you watch the episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition where the dad died from mold in a house the family was renovating? Jeez, man, this stuff’s in the news almost weekly.

  39. ShadowFalls says:

    Interesting question, did they notify the ones who foreclosed on it about the mold problem? If they didn’t they could possibly be held on charges for not doing so.

    If they had told the one who foreclosed and sold it, those people will be liable for it.

    @target38:

    Not all forms of mold will make people sick, some will make people sick, while others can kill people. Children and older people with a weaker immune system are more likely to quickly fall victim to a fatal type of mold.

    Also, the when symptoms occur, it tends to become a mystery to doctors unless they are more thorough.

  40. TechnoDestructo says:

    @synergy: FANNIE Mae…completely different…woman.

  41. SOhp101 says:

    Buying a home seems like such a nightmare. Luckily I’m too poor to purchase a home in Los Angeles.

  42. GitEmSteveDave says:

    @swalve: I think it is due to the different materials being used in homes being built now. Drywall almost seems like a petri dish when it gets wet. Plaster and slat, and other building materials don’t seem to retain water as badly. Also, a lot of old homes had hardwood floors that were sealed. Most wood you see now-a-days is a laminate, and probably gives a nice space between it and the floor below for the mold to grow.

    Also, older homes “breathed” more than modern homes, which are insulated to almost an inch of their lives. I have read and heard first hand many accounts of people with newer homes with fireplaces that after they start a fire, and hot air starts going out the flue, and creates such a vacuum inside the home, that the air can only be sucked in through the chimney.

  43. SadSam says:

    @JohnMc:

    The house went into foreclosure, the bank was the seller.

    Also, get your home inspected before you agree to buy it.

  44. @target38: “mild allergenic reaction”

    Spoken like someone who’s not allergic to mold.

    @swalve: “If mold is so bad, why are we only finding out about it recently? … Safety theater.”

    One reason is that new homes are built a lot tighter, so “breathe” less, which creates a better climate for mold. Also I would expect that allergies in general being on the rise makes it worse.

    As for safety theater, having just finished a tear-out of some basement carpet and paneling that got moldy after a flood (normal mold, and not a whole lot of it), you ABSOLUTELY want respiratory protection. I’m allergic to mold generally so it was almost closing my throat and my eyes were watering so hard I couldn’t see, but even my non-allergic husband was coughing and hacking and got red-eyed and itchy. And if I touched anything with bare skin, I sometimes got rashy, but more often would then touch my face later and end up setting myself off into a whole new round of allergic reactions.

    Now that it’s all out it’s a duststravaganza down there, but THAT doesn’t bother me a bit. (other than being a bit itchy on the skin)

  45. STrRedWolf says:

    Fannie Mae (the lender) did good here by buying the house back so it would be out of the market. I hope they help the family in finding new housing that isn’t mold infested!

  46. quail says:

    If you have mold allergies, then mold is a serious issue. But in referring to the baby deaths in Cleveland, OH the government went back and changed the report as to the infants cause of death. Originally they said mold, but they reissued and said the deaths were caused by a recent spraying of pesticides in the hospital nursery. But of course, those companies that have something to gain by getting you scared of mold only cite the first, recanted report.

    Mold is an issue for those sensitive to it. But there’s a racket in the mold removal business.

  47. vanilla-fro says:

    @target38: You’re right…kind of. Most mold is no problem for a healthy adult or older child. Toddler and under or the elderly are a different beast though. Even then mold in general is fine. But there are types (like the one in this house) that are bad for pretty much everybody with lungs.

  48. vanilla-fro says:

    @homerjay: wrong about that, they tell the insurance industry every chance they get that they need to be concerned about mold in any building. is it covered? probably not.

    but the insurance industry does worry about mold, trust me.

  49. poodlepoodle says:

    If mold is so bad, why are we only finding out about it recently?

    For the same reason lead wasn’t thought to be dangerous for a long time. Getting sick from it takes a while so it is harder to form a relationship to it in your head. Also many times you can’t even see the mold spores.

  50. Jerim says:

    @BigNutty:

    Call the media over what? At the time he left the note, it was a simple case of buying a house with mold in it. As he said, the previous owner wasn’t aware of the mold. So this guy discovers an issue and he should immediately go to the media? And just what are they going to do? Scream at the previous owner who didn’t know about the issue? It is everyone buyer’s responsibility to get the home inspected. As far as the current owner’s, if they can prove that the realtor had prior knowledge, then they might have a case. But if the guy who left the note didn’t divulge that information to the realtor, then he is more to blame than anyone. This is the number reason to get the home inspected BEFORE buying it.

  51. ElizabethD says:

    Gives new meaning to “Panic Room.” 8-O

  52. Benstein says:

    This illustrates why it is important to find a GOOD home inspector. Ask friends for recommendations, and actually interview the home inspector and ask for references (and call them). A good home inspector can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it is something you should take very seriously.

    For a buyer who is not an expert on house construction, it is very hard to tell between a good and bad home inspector, which is why it is very important to check up on them. You put alot of faith in these guys.

  53. workingonyourinvoice says:

    To everyone saying the previous owner should have done more (go to the media, go to the regulatory bodies, etc.), I mean come on, it’s not like there are organizations set up that are just waiting to hear about something like this so they can jump into the nearest phone booth, change into their tights and capes, and go kick some corrupt home seller’s asses. The people don’t care. Really. Just try getting anything done through a government regulatory body. I dare you.

    And as for the media: Did anybody else see that guy on Ripley’s believe it or not, that got his face eaten off by mold? I think he made a cameo on Southpark too. Well that’s what it takes. How can you seriously expect to get coverage for anything less than having your freaking face amputated??

  54. mandarin says:

    How does this kind of mold build up?

  55. bluesunburn says:

    @synergy:

    Nono, Fannie Mae, Sallie’s bitch of an older sister. :-)

  56. Atlantys says:

    How can you buy a house for $75,000????!
    My condo was 200k (and thankfully mold-free)

  57. UpsetPanda says:

    @Atlantys: Seriously! I’m wary of anything that is low-cost, mostly because it usually means it’s crap and in a crap neighborhood. Saying “you get what you paid for” is a bad thing, especially when it looks like the family who found the mold and left the note weren’t in good financial condition, since they didn’t even have the money to remove the mold. I’m sure they had medical bills piling up, but removing mold would be the most logical way of dealing with a problem, rather than ruining your financial condition even further by letting a home foreclose. I mean…really, if it was a matter of removing mold or letting my home foreclose, I’d just suck it up and find a way to get the funds to remove the mold.

  58. XTC46 says:

    When I build my house, it will have secret rooms (moldless preferably)

  59. Tzepish says:

    @target38: Who is this guy? PR for “molds co.”?

  60. vaxman says:

    @target38: Your comments just make me want to mock you…

  61. UpsetPanda says:

    @xtc46: With bunsen burners and secret passageways that are too short and require you to stoop. And schematics. They’ll contain schematics.

  62. JiminyChristmas says:

    @CaffeinatedSquint: FYI, $75K isn’t necessarily a ‘crap’/you get what you pay for house. After all, we’re talking about Greenville, South Carolina here. $75,000 should easily get you a solid, if modest, middle class house in a decent neighborhood in that region.

    If you have spent your whole life living in a major metropolitan area, and the only small towns you ever see are resorts, (BTW, I’m not saying this is you.) one’s view of what things should cost can be a little slanted. The US is full of towns where you can easily buy an old house in good condition for under $50K.

  63. swalve says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Are you sure it wasn’t fiberglass causing the reaction?

    @ElizabethD: excellent!

  64. MrEvil says:

    Same thing happened to my mother. She bought a house had it inspected. Came to find out that there was an underground spring underneath the house and that the furnace was evaporating the water and sucking it right in. This fostered hellacious mold growth. The house is a total loss, insurance won’t pay for it, and my mother can’t even FIND the sellers. Luckily the mold house sits on 10 acres and she had enough extra money to buy a mobile home and set it up on the property.

    If you’re in an area with a high water table and high average humidity (or in a flood zone). You better get a regular home inspector and a mold expert.

    Also, $75,000 will buy you a pretty decent 2 bedroom house around here in a nice neighborhood….however the definition of “nice neighborhood” depends on how much of a racist asshole you are.

  65. Catperson says:

    @quail: Word. I know someone who worked for a company that was certified to do “mold remediation.” They called my friend in because she has her own cleaning business. She knew nothing about mold remediation and they basically told her not to worry about it, to just wipe everything down with some solution they had. They had no concern whatsoever for actually making sure the mold was gone.

  66. wesrubix says:

    hahahaha

    HOW on EARTH could you buy a house, that “came with a bookshelf” and not look behind it?

    Darwin needs money.