Homeowners in the Heritage Landing subdivision are suing the condominium association, a property management company and subcontractors after suffering respiratory and gastrointestinal problems they argue were caused by mold that was not properly eliminated.
John "Tim" and Martha "Muffy" Mitch filed the lawsuit Aug. 7 seeking a sum not to exceed $10 million for damages, court costs, discretionary costs and further relief. The couple claims to have alerted the homeowners association of the problem. Subcontractors were hired to rid the home of the mold but allegedly didn't do an adequate job.
"The work was either not performed at all or was done in such a way as to have no beneficial impact on the living conditions in the [sic] Tim and Muffy's condominium," according to the lawsuit.
Now their neighbor, Yvonne Swafford, is experiencing similar problems she believes are being caused by toxic black mold.
The residents claim the condominium association and property managers were aware of the problem but didn't take proper steps to warn residents or remediate the issue.
The upscale neighborhood along the Chattanooga Golf & Country Club has homes ranging from several hundred thousand dollars to more than a million, according to current real estate listings.
Tim and Muffy Mitch moved into their North Chattanooga home in September 2011. Muffy Mitch began having respiratory and gastrointestinal issues nearly seven years later. She was diagnosed with an intestinal disease that causes severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and other issues.
She was hospitalized for five days and placed on oxygen for five months, according to the lawsuit.
"Muffy was in such significant lung pain that she became totally incapacitated and bed-ridden," according to the lawsuit.
Tim Mitch also suffered health-related problems he believes were caused by the mold, according to the lawsuit.
However, attributing health issues directly to mold can be tricky, according to Chattanooga allergist Curt Chaffin of The Allergy Asthma Group of Galen. There are certainly health risks that come with living in a home that has high concentrations of mold, he said. It can provoke itchy and watery eyes, asthma flairs and rashes. And that's just from an allergy perspective. There are other side effects like some of the health complications experienced by the Mitches.
Most homes have at least some level of mold. There aren't industry standards to determine how much is considered too much and whether those levels changes from person to person.
"It's a little hard to know," Chaffin said. "There just haven't been adequate studies. What are the bad mold levels? It's very difficult for people who feel like they're having problems with mold to get a straight answer. There's lots of gray, and it can be frustrating to get answers for people having trouble with that."
Tim and Muffy Mitch hired an environmental testing company in September to perform an evaluation. The company found significant water intrusion and harmful levels of mold and toxic fungi in the crawlspace beneath the house, according to the lawsuit.
The couple provided the information to their physicians, who acknowledged the mold was more likely than not the underlying cause of Muffy Mitch's illnesses, according to the lawsuit. The two, who are in their 70s, declined to comment for this article.
The physicians provided letters to the couple warning of the hazards and insisted the couple "vacate the property immediately and remain gone until mold remediation could be performed," according to the lawsuit. Heritage Landing Condominium Association agreed to repairs and to rid the condo of mold, according to the lawsuit. However, they did not do adequate work, according to the lawsuit.
Representatives with the condominium association and their property management company, Associa Tennessee Inc., did not return requests for comment before press time.
Swafford moved to the community in 2016 and began having health problems soon after, she said. Mold was found and removed on three occasions, she wrote in an email to the Times Free Press, but she didn't think to connect her health problems to the mold until her symptoms began to deteriorate.
"I never considered placing my congestion, coughing, sneezing and other symptoms on black mold exposure," she wrote. "I blamed cognitive issues and headaches on stress. Coughing and nasal congestion I thought to be [caused by] colds and allergies."
She began experiencing chest pain, which she said never happens to her. She also noticed her symptoms improved while she was at work or would spend a few hours away from home.
Last month, she awoke with numbness and tingling in her legs. She thought she might know the cause.
She crawled into her crawlspace and went into the attic. There was mold in both.
She knew her neighbors had recently moved out temporarily due to a similar issue. She did the same and hasn't been back.
"I had to protect myself," she wrote. "Surely there are more home owners and renters in Heritage Landing that have either had toxic mold problems, [are] currently going through it or more so aren't even aware of the mold problems they have. I'm concerned about the good people in this community that suffer symptoms of toxic mold exposure and are not aware of it. Its [sic] easy to blame these symptoms on other things."