BUFFALO, Minn - Renters at the Maria Villa apartments are fighting their landlord in court over growing concerns of mold.
Many of the people live at the affordable housing complex at 607 1st Ave NE in Buffalo are seniors or disabled, and say the conditions are making them sick.
Jen Bakken is a single mother who says she and her two kids have suffered from respiratory problems since they moved in last June. This week, she bought a home mold test kit.
"I basically set it on my bathroom counter, you are supposed to leave it open for an hour, and you close it," pointing the patches mold that grew in the Petri dish afterwards.
"It tells me that I am breathing in bad air, that the kids and I aren't safe here. I don't know what to do, there are other people here too and we are all sick," she said.
Sue Lueck says mold grew in her bathroom too, and a diagnosis has forced her to move out after living in the complex for six years.
"In February of this year I was diagnosed with leukemia, lymphocytic leukemia," she said, and says her doctors are testing to see if the cancer was possibly caused by mold.
Lueck and her neighbors have written letters about the mold to the property management and owners, and their complaints date back to 2009.
"We call all these people and ask for help and nobody helps us," Lueck said.
This week the city of Buffalo sent a letter to the apartment owner requesting the owner address the complaints. City Administrator Merton Auger said the owner will conduct an inspection this weekend, and hire a contractor to examine the problem.
"Breathing clean air, that should be everyone's right," said Bakken.
Bakken and another renter filed a rent escrow with the Wright County courts. The claim requires a tenant write a letter to the landlord for any non-emergency repair. If there isn't a response within two weeks, the tenant can file for a hearing to leverage a repair, also within a two week time period.
The non-profit tenant advocacy group Home Line, which offers legal advice to renters, recommends tenants with similar concerns file rent escrow. Home Line Managing Attorney & Hotline Director Mike Vraa says mold is tough case for tenants because there are so many kinds of mold, and claims of harmful mold require proof and testing. Bakken says she cannot afford the cost of testing or a move.
"I don't have anywhere to go. I am disabled, and the rent is based on income," said Bakken.
KARE 11 made several attempts to contact the property management company and the owner, but has not yet heard back.
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