Mold update: Samaritans tackle gutted house

NEWS- Mold update: Samaritans tackle gutted house


A couple saves for years to buy a house in the ever-escalating Charlottesville market, only to see their dreams dissolve into a mold-infested nightmare.

The March 31 Hook cover story, "This mold house: Family devastated by spore war," prompted an outpouring of inquiries about how to help former Marine Larry Butler and his wife, Judit Szaloki.

The family isn't out of the woods– or into their new house– yet. In fact, they may have to move into a shelter at the end of the month, says Szaloki, because they don't have money to pay both rent and the mortgage on the new, uninhabitable house that makes their children sick.

General contractor Bob Fenwick felt the family had been "bushwhacked." Their plight moved him to stop the water that was getting into the house, especially when he heard they'd gotten a $20,000 bid for the work. "I thought, this is what I do, and I can do a better job."

The fix was relatively simple: a broken downspout sent water into a basement wall every time it rained. Clogged gutters in the front funneled water down an exterior wall. Fenwick charged Butler $1 to do the job he normally would have done for $1,000.

And he's documenting the remediation on his website,, so that other homeowners can avoid the same pitfalls.

Steve Taylor at ServiceMaster called as soon as the article appeared and offered to remediate the house– gratis. His crew started April 11 and expects to be in the house two weeks, tearing out moldy sheetrock, floors and two by fours, and cleaning mold from every inch of the house, a job that crew leader Shirley Hodges estimates would cost $30,000.

"We pretty much gutted the basement," says Hodges. "It's really bad." She can't imagine how the previous owner, Steve Dudley, didn't know about the mold problem. "Just the smell would give it away," she says.

Fenwick agrees. "There's no question that the mold, mildew, dry rot, and wet rot that we've found have been there not for weeks or months, but for years."

Dudley did not respond to a request for comment from The Hook.

Butler and Szaloki believe the mold was deliberately covered up, but the couple's efforts to find an attorney to take on their case have failed– because they're too broke to pay the retainer. "We must have talked to 10 lawyers," groans Szaloki.

Once ServiceMaster finishes cleaning the house, the family is looking at a bare-bones brick structure with no bathrooms, sheetrock walls, or kitchen cabinets. "As long as we can go in with no mold, I'm fine with nothing," says Szaloki, whose daughter had to go to the emergency room after a couple of hours in the house. "We can use a porta-potty."

While Szaloki is stoic about living in what basically would be a house under construction– and one they can't afford to reconstruct– Butler is increasingly in despair over the mounting bills and possibility of bankruptcy.

"I don't have the rent money, and our landlady is ready to kick us out," he laments. "I want to pay her, but I don't have the money." Adding to the family's pile of troubles, Szaloki's car broke down and needs $2,500 worth of work. "It's overwhelming," says Butler.

ServiceMaster owner Steve Taylor was touched by the Butlers' plight and provided a crew to clean up the mold at 2207 Wayne Avenue for free. That still leaves the family with a gutted house they can't afford to fix.

ServiceMaster crew leader Shirley Hodges says the job normally would cost $30,000.

The ducts definitely need to be cleaned. Hodges holds a mold-clogged vent.

Even the subflooring in the bathroom was rotted from water damage.