WINCHESTER — A Frederick County couple says their apartment complex has failed to eliminate the mold that they claim keeps growing inside their rental unit.
The manager of the apartment complex says there isn’t any mold, just mildew caused by the tenants themselves.
The dispute will end today when Bob and Elizabeth Little move out of Autumn Wind Apartments off North Frederick Pike (U.S. 522), northwest of Winchester.
“We shouldn’t have to live like this,” Elizabeth Little said. “It’s just hell in here. This mold’s going to kill us.”
“We found no mold,” said Claudia Foster, who manages the apartments on behalf of S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co. of Norfolk. “We’ve been asking [the Littles] since October if they had any problems in the apartment, and the answer has been no.”
The Autumn Wind Apartments complex was built 20 years ago on about 19 wooded acres near Winchester. The property is owned by Dallas-based Partnership 16 LP and appears to be well-maintained. Rents are based on tenants’ income levels, and there is a waiting list for available apartments.
“We have a lot of happy residents,” Foster said.
Last week, the Littles invited The Winchester Star to come out and take a look at their $961-a-month apartment on the first floor of the building at 132 Paw Paw Court.
When Elizabeth Little opened the door to Apartment 102, where she has lived with her husband since October 2017, a strong, musty smell emanated from the home.
“It’s getting stronger and stronger,” she said.
The Littles shared several photographs that showed black and green stains throughout the apartment and its exterior. On Friday, all of the stains had been removed except for some dark patches on the outdoor deck and a handful of small, gray spots on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in the dining room.
Foster acknowledged the Littles’ apartment smells musty and has a high humidity level.
“It’s a first-floor apartment facing the trees. You have to have ventilation,” Foster said. “They went on vacation last year, October 4th, and they turned off the AC [air conditioning]. At the same time, we had 19 straight days of rain.”
The lack of air movement in the dark apartment caused humidity levels to climb, she said, and gave rise to the musty odor and growth of mildew.
Autumn Wind put a dehumidifier in the apartment, Foster said, and a member of the maintenance crew removed a closet door near the unit’s front entrance to allow for better air flow in the area where the Littles say the musty smell is strongest.
“That door’s been off for two weeks now but the odor keeps coming,” Ben Little said.
Autumn Wind also contracted the residential maintenance firm Servpro to check the apartment for mold, and Foster said none was detected.
“Mold can happen anywhere,” she said. “If it happens, we have to fix it.”
The Littles, both of whom are in their 70s, insist the mold exists and that it has endangered their health.
“We both are diabetics,” Elizabeth Little said, “and he has trouble breathing [due to emphysema]. He uses an inhaler when he’s outside in the sun, but here lately, he’s been using it inside the house.”
Elizabeth Little said mold has also damaged her nervous system and caused her left arm to shake. However, she said that has not been confirmed by a doctor.
Foster offered to move the couple into another first-floor apartment in the same building, but Elizabeth Little said she has spoken with her neighbors and learned that all the ground-level units are susceptible to similar problems.
Foster disputes that claim, saying that no other tenants at 132 Paw Paw Court have reported mold or high levels of humidity.
The Littles say they have had enough. They bought a mobile home in Frederick County and are moving there today.
Foster said she has agreed to release the Littles from their rental agreement without penalty, and she anticipates giving them a full refund of their security deposit following an inspection of the apartment later this week.
“We have to clean and maybe put in a dehumidifier,” Foster said, but otherwise, Apartment 102 at 132 Paw Paw Court will soon be ready for its next occupants.