Spore-atic: Mold-house family faces 'camping'

The closer Larry Butler and Judit Szaloki come to getting into their new home, the closer they are to ending up in the street.

The couple was the subject of the Hook's March 31 cover story, "This mold house." After saving for years before finally finding a house they could afford, they discovered after closing that mold made it uninhabitable for their four children– especially the two with asthma.

After reading about their situation, ServiceMaster owner Steve Taylor donated a $30,000 cleanup. Workers had to strip out walls and remove kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures. A month ago, Taylor believed the house at 2207 Wayne Avenue mold-free.

However, when Joel Loving of Environmental Health Consultants came in to test the air, he didn't clear the house for the family's occupancy.

"There was one area we overlooked that we thought was a plaster wall, but it was drywall," says Taylor. He sent a crew back over to remove the wall. "Visually, you can't see a thing. You have to do the air test."

Loving went in again, and still found mold spores, this time attributable to a moldy toilet seat. At press time, the family was still waiting for a clean air test. "You want all these found before they move in," advises Loving.

And then there's the asbestos problem. Because Judit Szaloki runs a day care center at home, Loving suggested she remove the asbestos tiles on the floor in the basement where the children will be, and Richard Kelley at Asbestco has offered to do that job for free.

General contractor Bob Fenwick has taken the family under wing and vows to get them into their new house. He's gotten new sheetrock and cabinets for the downstairs kitchen, and says he was "blindsided" by the recommendation to remove the asbestos flooring.

"It's a major project," he says. "Like any major project, you don't like surprises at the last minute."

Meanwhile, Fenwick worries about former Marine Larry Butler, who's been in bed sick for a week. Butler owns Uncle Larry's Toy Shop in Ivy Square, and while he's optimistic about its potential, the shop hasn't made money yet.

"Larry's a strong guy, and I know it's getting to be a grind," observes Fenwick. "And I know it's getting to Judit." Szaloki has run a day care business for years, and the plan was for the day care to pay for the mortgage on the new house. But now she's down to her last three children.

Fenwick sees the end of this month as the drop-dead date to get the Butlers into their new home– even though he describes the scene as "much like camping."

He's not worried about a lingering mold threat. "It'll probably be the cleanest house in town," says Fenwick.

The couple struggles to pay the mortgage on their new, uninhabitable house, the rent on the store, and the rent on their current residence, which their landlord says they gave notice they'd be out of by March 4.

"I've been very patient," says landlord Ulrike Wartner. "I had to put plans on hold. I've made it very clear they can stay as long as they meet the obligations of their lease at the beginning of the month."

"This month we've borrowed half of our rent," says Szaloki. "We need to find the rest of the month's rent."

As dire as their situation is, the couple is amazed at the number of people who've helped them out with donations of labor, materials, cash, and food.

Most recently, a woman who insists on remaining anonymous has opened a bank account for donations to help the family: Mold House Heartbreak Fund, c/o BB&T, 250 Pantops Mountain Road, Charlottesville, VA 22911.

Larry Butler and Judit Szaloki believe the mold in the house they purchased was deliberately covered up, but they're too broke to hire a lawyer, and no one seems willing to take their case.