This mold house: Family devasted by spore war

Less than two blocks away from the mold-infested house owned by Larry Butler and Judit Szaloki, another pair of first-time homeowners had a similar horrific experience. On the very day in 2003 when Ken and Heidi Vanderford moved into their dream house on North Berkshire Road, a river of water rushed through the front door. Today, that address is a vacant lot.

The house, which had a history of flooding, fostered the growth of so much mold that it was condemned by city officials. Last October, it was demolished as uninhabitable.

Like the Butlers on nearby Wayne Avenue, the Vanderfords had poured all their resources into buying their first home. Ken, a plumber, and Heidi, a waitress at Outback Steakhouse, couldn't afford to clean up the mold that made their new home unlivable. The couple declared bankruptcy in 2004.

Their house, like the Butlers', had been purchased "as is."

"Virginia's legislation needs to be changed," says Ken Vanderford. "There's absolutely no protection for the little guy."

There's certainly no flood protection in most private insurance policies.

Unlike the Butlers, the Vanderfords didn't order a pre-purchase inspection that might have spotted mold or uncovered the house's history of flooding. The Vanderfords say they had no idea their house was sitting on top of a corroded underground storm sewer– constructed decades ago by a private developer.

As a result, they lost everything.

His advice to the Butlers: "Get a good lawyer."

Vanderford considered a lawsuit. "I gave up the fight because I got tired of watching my wife deteriorate," he says. "You can regain money. You can't regain your family."

The Vanderfords hope to buy another house one day, and they'll do a few things differently, like "get one on top of a hill," Ken jokes.

More seriously, he says he'll have an extremely thorough home inspection done. He'll talk to neighbors to find out the history of the house. And, "I'd advise everybody in Charlottesville to have an air quality test done," he says. "Nobody's going to protect you."

Ken and Heidi Vanderford's moldy house was bulldozed last year. Today, the crumbling storm drains that caused the flooding along North Berkshire Road are still not fixed.


The Vanderfords' plight first came to public attention in the
Hook's August 28, 2003 cover story.