The horrible secret of Number 6 Whitten Street

A story I've been meaning to write about for several weeks now involves a family in South Carolina who moved into a newly purchased house.
They were all messing about one day, doing chores, cleaning up, moving in, when they "found a secret room in their home behind a bookcase" – but "what was inside," we read, "was a nightmare beyond their wildest dreams."

[Image: A suburban house that is otherwise unconnected to this post].

Inside the room was a hand-written note.
The note said "You Found It!"
It turns out, the note explained, that the house was infested with "the worst types of mold including Stachybotrys, the so-called Toxic Black Mold," which can cause "respiratory bleeding" in infants.

[Image: Toxic black mold].

The stunned homeowners, thinking they might be the victims of a weird hoax, hired an environmental engineer – only to discover that the problem was even worse than they thought; the house contained "elevated levels of several types of mold, including Aspergillus, Basidiospores, Chaetomiu, Curvularia, Stachybotrys and Torula."
The town's local news station calls this "the horrible secret of Number 6 Whitten Street."

(Thanks, David W.!)

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Blogger Jeremy Lane said...

They've got to be able to sue the former owners, right?

January 02, 2008 3:47 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Well, it sounds a little confusing, actually, but they're suing the banks. The original article has more info about that - but somehow the previous owner (who left the note, mind you) is outside the lawsuit. Or at least that's how I read it. I should probably double-check the article...

January 02, 2008 3:51 PM  
Blogger cavalaxis said...

We lived in an apartment in LA with horrible mold, and as renters, had absolutely no recourse except to move. We hoped that they would do some proper mold remediation after the ceiling caved in, but no such luck. The landlords sealed up the rotted ceiling and plastered over it like it wasn't even there. We couldn't keep bread on the counter. It would go moldy in a day. And we were always horrible sick.

I don't envy these folks.

January 02, 2008 6:27 PM  
Blogger thelostboy said...

Chuck P.'s "Diary" rears its head again on your blog.

January 03, 2008 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like a house someone would try to sell for 1.1 mil + in Florida during the bubble.

January 03, 2008 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i cant imagine how the former owners could not be found in some way at fault. it is a law that if you think your house is haunted you must release this information to the buyer so how could something life threatening like this be overlooked?

January 03, 2008 9:11 AM  
Anonymous NoneMoreNegative said...

Re: Ghosts: Indeed, they could be heading for a Spectral Bride situation :)

I remember seeing this story in my newsfeed when it first broke, and thinking about the hidden rooms posts here at BB... It's the complete antithesis of building yourself an actual secret chamber.

January 03, 2008 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey Geoff! its not really from 30 seconds ago and you might know it, but its finally open for public! check it out..http://spacecollective.org/projects/Studio-Lynn-Vienna

January 03, 2008 10:58 AM  
Blogger AA said...

Roman Polanski made a film about this in 1976: The Tenant / http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074811/.

I hope the ending of this family's story will be different.

January 03, 2008 1:11 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Source article has an update- their morgage company has agreed to give them back the money they bought it for, $75,000.
If that was the listing price, I'd have been a little suspicious in the first place. They signed a "buy as-is" form, so I think they're pretty lucky to get anything.

January 03, 2008 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why you should always get a termite/mold inspection that would find these kinds of things. If it was bought AS-IS, that's another story. Luckily they got their money back. Could have turned out worse.

January 03, 2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger sevensixfive said...

Reminds me of House of Leaves:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Leaves

January 03, 2008 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Yule Heibel said...

Ugh, what an awful story...

Jenna wrote: "Source article has an update- their morgage company has agreed to give them back the money they bought it for, $75,000." That's right, and the reason they're actually grateful to the previous owner (who left the note) and why that previous owner isn't on the hook for this is because those folks defaulted on the mortgage -- it was the only way they could get out of the house quickly, which they needed to do since their daughter became critically ill, too. After they defaulted and lost everything, they essentially became exempt from any liability: responsibility as seller moved to the mortgage lender/Fanny Mae (and presumably the realtors). The previous owners then purposely left the note in a hidden-from-view area because they wanted the next owner to find out quickly. They (previous owners) hadn't been told about the problems, and figured the house would be sold on to another unsuspecting rube (which it was). That's what the note was intended for: to alert the new owners.

Sure, the new buyers should have had a mold inspection done, but I'm sure the real estate dame was sweet-talkin' them the whole time, they probably didn't even notice what was hitting them.

January 04, 2008 8:17 PM  
Anonymous exurban escape said...

Yule:

I was imagining some horrible, sociopathic former owners until I read your take on this story. Thanks!

January 04, 2008 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that the same Stachybotrys responsible for one of the 10 plagues of Egypt?

January 05, 2008 8:56 AM  
Blogger zilfondel said...

This is a big deal? Looks like every rental house and apartment in Portland, OR.

January 05, 2008 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A house for 75K? Man, I've been living in California for too long.

January 06, 2008 10:40 AM  
OpenID Paul Hyland said...

Since I haven't seen this mentioned yet, I have to answer the latest and previous similar comments:

I'm guessing that $75K they got back was their downpayment, not the total purchase price. If they put 20% down, that makes it a $375K house, which makes more sense in South Carolina (still darn cheap for California, though).

Now, how do we (the government?) keep this hazard off the market unless/until it's been remediated?

January 06, 2008 11:27 AM  
Anonymous mjohnson said...

In the UK the Realtor would be barred from practicing for a false or misleading statement about the state of the property under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 misleading in this case would include omission, and I assume they omitted to tell the new owners about this room. Even if they were unaware of the mould they could still get barred depending on what practices they had in place for checking on things like this.

Sorry, I’m supposed to be revising for an exam in real estate agency in London. Back to work!

January 06, 2008 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

$75,000 was the total selling price. Check out Google maps satellite view and comparable real estate listings in the neighborhood. Many houses in Greenville are selling for $40 - $60K.

Can anyone identify the huge complex a block north of this address? A slaughterhouse of maximum security prison perhaps?

January 06, 2008 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite the ongoing hysteria over it, Stachybotrys "black mold" has been disproven as the cause of respiratory bleeding in infants. Here are references detailing the CDC's change of position on this:
http://web.bsu.edu/IEN/archives/2000/062900.htm

http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/factsheets/stachybotrys.htm

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4909a3.htm

Overwhelming amounts of mold as found in this house can cause respiratory problems, just as would overwhelming amounts of pollen or dust. But there's nothing magically toxic about stachybotrys.

January 06, 2008 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like the previous owner was trying to help by leaving a note, but left the note hidden so that that realtor (or whatever other "interested party") couldn't hide it. But wouldn't a note out in the open, or better yet, a formal inspection and a documented letter to the bank explaining the reason for foreclosure have helped more? It would have either prevented the same thing from happening again are at least made the liability more clear afterwards.

January 06, 2008 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Erin said...

Ugh! Bad image to see while drinking coffee.

January 06, 2008 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Can anyone identify the huge complex a block north of this address? A slaughterhouse of maximum security prison perhaps?"

I can identify: it is a textile mill (now closed - as are most of the mills in the american south.)

January 06, 2008 3:06 PM  
Anonymous mralistair said...

if you bought a house in london and found an extra room you didn't know about you'd be pretty happy, could Add 75k to the value!

presumable the mould was caused by some sort of water ingress or leaky pipe, surey can't be all that hard to fix it and treat the mould? there does seem to be a slight american obsession with mould and illness.

January 06, 2008 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SC is a "full-disclosure" state. Any time a sale of a house is made, the contract is null and void if the seller didn't disclose all information about the house, including mold infestation -- basically any problems have to be written into the contract to prove the buyer had prior knowledge of all defects. Every bank who loans money for a mortgage has to have the house inspected and appraised before the sale can go through. Since the inspection and appraisal should have found a mold problem (I've lived in old and new homes. If there is a mold problem, you can actually smell it.), the bank had to have actively suppressed this information. I can't imagine the previous tenants NOT mentioning the mold, since it is their "reason" for having to leave and break their mortgage.(My father is a Realtor.)

January 06, 2008 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes mold can be deadly before you realize you have a problem. I know a guy who's wife died mysteriously last summer. She had lost a bunch of weight and had some other weird symptoms and the doctors were having problems figuring out what it was. Then she died in her sleep.

A couple months later, the man started to come down with the same symptoms. It turned out there was some sort of very toxic mold (unfortunately I don't know the species) in the wall of their laundry room. His wife had done all the family's laundry (they have two school-age kids), but after she died, he started doing the laundry and started getting sick too.

January 06, 2008 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about SC, but in Indiana, the fact that this house was a foreclosure would change the disclosure situation. Disclosures here can only be completed by a resident owner. A bank sale requires paperwork that clearly states that the property is being sold "as-is" (which the article indicates is how the buyers bought it.) While the buyer is welcome to perform any and all possible inspections, the seller is not obligated to correct any defects revealed by such inspections as a condition of the sale, once the contract has been signed. Generally speaking, inspections are conducted after the contract has been accepted.

It's probable no one from the bank that owned the property ever saw the house and it's doubtful they knew much about the mold issue, even if the prior owners did inform someone. Mortgage companies aren't in the business of mold remediation or indeed much else that actually has to do with housing and structures. They are financial institutions that loan money.

It will be interesting to see if it's proven that the agent knew anything about the mold. I'm speculating here, but since only one agent is being named, it seems likely that the buyers went directly to the listing agent and didn't use a buyer's agent to represent them. That's generally a bad idea, as you don't have anyone in your corner actively representing you.

If she did know something about the mold, then she's in huge trouble. Aside from the damages in the suit, she'll almost certainly lose her license, and the local, state, and national Realtors association will come down on her like a ton of bricks. If she knew, she deserves it.

On the other hand, my sympathy for the buyer is limited. These people didn't take the rudimentary precautions they should have. I'm always baffled that someone making an investment of this magnitude and importance won't do the due diligence necessary to protect themselves.

Seriously folks, do *all* the inspections, have a buyer's agent on your side, and use a reputable mortgage *bank* not a broker when buying a home. Trying to save money by skipping on this stuff so you can buy more home has the potential to be very, very costly in the long run.

January 06, 2008 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a textile mill just north of the home's address. Opened and closed several times. Don't know the name now.

January 07, 2008 12:34 AM  
Anonymous RE.Agent said...

It's a new paradigm, and everybody who doesn't buy, now, will be priced out forever. Anybody who does buy will be rewarded with a lifetime of riches, as their property will continue its 30% yearly price increase.

Renters, and anybody born in a future generation, will not be able to afford a $10,000,000 starter home in 15 years. They will live in tent cities, and Hondas.

This asset bubble is different than all of the others - it will never slow down, or pop. The gains are permanent.

January 07, 2008 1:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There must be something pretty terrible about South Carolina? That looks like a $750,000 house, not a $75,000 one.

January 07, 2008 1:06 PM  
Anonymous inspector said...

Read the caption people - the picture is not of the house in the story.
Anonymous from Indiana on 1/6 is right on. And yes, stachybotris is overhyped as a "killer mold".
Interesting story.

January 08, 2008 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story is made interesting by the inclusion of the secret room, but is otherwise a rather mundane little tale.

Fixing a mould infestation problem is not usually a difficult problem in itself; the mould can be killed with any of a variety of inexpensive commercial products, then cleaned up with detergent and warm water followed by thorough drying. (A respirator is recommended just to be on the safe side, although it is nearly always overkill; people were living here for hours per day just a moment ago, and they aren't dead!)

The problem is that a mould infestation always indicates a dampness problem, and those can be exensive to fix if they indicate a substantial structural defect, or if the whole plumbing system is falling apart.

Most of the time though, even the most horrifying mould problems can be fixed up in a few hours by patching a leaking roof tile; clearing a blocked drain; or putting a cheap plastic ventilator register into that muggy, airless room. Followed up, of course, with a bit of sugar soap and elbow grease.

January 15, 2008 5:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HEY GEOFF,
HERE IN HAWAII, WHEN THEY SELL A HOUSE APARTMENT, OR TOWN HOUSE THEY DON'T HAVE TO REPORT ANYTHING, THIS IS THE MOST HAUNTED PLACE TO LIVE TRUST ME ON THAT ONE. AS FAR AS MOLD OR ANY OTHER HEALTH HAZARDS, HERE IT IS UP TO THE BUYER TO HIRE A HOME INSPECTOR FOR 500.00, IT TAKES THEM LESS THAN TEN MINTUES I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT YOU CAN'T FIND ANYTHING WRONG OR RIGHT ABOUT A PLACE IN TEN MINTUES. I AM IN THE WRONG BUSINESS I WOULD LOVE TO MAKE 500.00 IN TEN MINTUES BUT I WOULD FEEL PRETTY GUILTY ABOUT IT. HOW ANYONE GETS AWAY WITH ANY OF THIS? I DON'T KNOW, WISH I HAD A ANSWER FOR THAT ONE. I FEEL FOR THESE PEOPLE BECAUSE I BEEN THERE DONE THAT. ALOHA

March 16, 2008 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those of you who dismiss mold are "Tools" using mold for financial gain.
My family is living the horror, 11 years now, health and financial, the new house was built by The Jones Company Homes, the case is so strong the courts/judges who are elected in our state will not permit a trail, judges are elected here, in our opinion, corporations can by the judge by simply donating to the judges election campaign fund. 10 years and continuing, just days away from every trial date a judge will manipulate the law to stop the trial: trial dates are pushed forward month after month, year after year, in to the future, this pattern has continued for 10 years, the mortgage is paid on time every month, we can not live in the house, lease the house, or sell the house!
You "Tools" out there ... put your money where your lying, putrid mouths are and buy these houses, make them homes for your family ... when I see that done I will revisit your statements that mold is harmless and easily cleaned ... I want to see you greedy snake oil salesmen move your families in to one of these homes! DO IT!

January 30, 2010 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is the Builder of this >insert descriptive noun here<. Folks need to know in order that their loved ones do not suffer, we must save each other, people are held accountable by disclosure laws, corporations, i.e. Builders, Banks, Insurers, et al are not ... these entities "donate" (see pay-off) the officials: politicians, judges, codes officers, etc.

I am pleading with You to disclose the Builders Name!

February 01, 2010 6:40 PM  
Blogger yellowcamaro said...

The root cellar of the house I just moved into makes this look like nothing. There's a six foot patch of inch-thick, green, bubbly, coagulated slimy mold mixed in with standing rainwater and black mold all over the plywood walls.

May 27, 2010 10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The people that are saying that toxic mold is harmless have no idea of what they are talking about! My sister is sick because of it and she is living hell every day of her life.

January 05, 2014 12:07 AM  

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