Wednesday, 22 June 2005
Breaking the mold
One by one they stepped to the podium to tell stories of dreams shattered. Young and old, they had the same story to tell - and many fought back tears as they spoke.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Saturday, June 30, 2001
Breaking the mold
AUSTIN - One by one they stepped to the podium to tell stories of dreams shattered. Young and old, they had the same story to tell - and many fought back tears as they spoke.
They were homeowners from around the state, but many had been forced from their homes and into hotels or rent houses. Some had lived in their new homes just a few weeks, while others left homes they lived in for more than 30 years.
In every case, a water problem caused mold to develop and families had to move because they were getting sick. Dozens of homeowners testified at a recent hearing in Austin held by the Texas Department of Insurance. The hearing was prompted by a proposal from some insurance companies to exclude mold coverage from homeowner policies.
Most Texas homeowner policies currently include coverage for mold damage if it is caused by a covered loss such as a roof or plumbing leak.
But insurers say the rising number of mold-related claims is driving up their costs and will lead to higher premiums for all homeowners. They want the Texas Department of Insurance to eliminate mold coverage from the standard policy. Homeowners who want mold coverage would have to pay extra. The problem for the insurance industry is that mold is usually the cause of an accident, such as a water leak, and protection against such misfortunes is why consumers have insurance.
Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor said he needs more information and will hold hearings in Corpus Christi and Houston in the coming months. ''We need to increase our knowledge of what is happening,'' Montemayor said.
What's happening is that mold problems are more widespread than some people expected - and this issue isn't just affecting the insurance industry.
Many homeowners attribute their mold problems to homebuilders for faulty construction, air conditioning and plumbing leaks, careless building practices and defective materials. They want homebuilders held accountable for shoddy work.
''The real cause of (the mold) is a lack of regulation of the homebuilding industry,'' said Janet Ahmad, president of San Antonio-based Home Owners for Better Building.
The homebuilding industry will be under increased scrutiny in upcoming months - and there are signs that state lawmakers will get more involved in this issue.
State Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, has requested that House Speaker Pete Laney name an interim study and that Montemayor create a task force to examine insurance coverage of mold.
Also, representatives for the Home Owners for Better Building plan to meet with acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff to discuss interim committee hearings on mold, construction defects and a home lemon law.
Home lemon law failed
Lawmakers missed an opportunity to pass a home lemon law last session. Supporters say such a law would be similar to the automobile lemon law and would hold homebuilders accountable for shoddy practices. Increased attention on mold problems may provide fuel to the home lemon law efforts because lawmakers listen when their constituents' health is affected.
''Insurance companies shouldn't penalize families who are victims,'' Austin resident Dawn Richardson wrote in a June 25 letter to state lawmakers. ''They need to go after the problem: builders utilizing sloppy building practices and materials that predispose a home to mold problems.''
Richardson said she was forced to move her family from their new home after just six weeks. Mold had developed from an air conditioner leak, which caused water to seep between walls and under floors.
One thing is clear about this issue: more research is needed on the effects of mold and the reasons for the increasing number of complaints statewide. There's no question that people are getting sick.
It's encouraging to see state lawmakers and other officials getting more involved in this issue. It is their duty to identify the problems and then take steps to remedy the situation.
Ty Meighan is chief of the Scripps Howard Austin Bureau and can be reached at 512-334-6640 or