Moldering claim: New roof comes too late

"I have gone down the drain," Mildred Crenshaw says. Crenshaw, at 75, claims she has a house she can't live in and an apartment she can't afford, at $800 a month, to stay in much longer. Her biggest fear? That when the lease ends in August, she'll be forced to live in her car.

This wasn't the outcome she'd envisioned when, in the fall of 2003, she paid the Richmond Midlothian Home Depot $6,646 to install a new roof on her house in Fork Union. Using "superior materials," the company's website promises, roofs are installed by individuals in Home Depot's network of "hand-picked, licensed, independent professionals– experts with years of experience."

The roof was installed in November 2003, and although the website states that Home Depot delivers "integrated roofing systems complete with balanced attic ventilation" and "leak barrier in all areas prone to water infiltration," Crenshaw and her attorney, Randall Johnson, beg to differ.

According to Johnson, the roofer "didn't replace the ventilation caps, and water seeped in." He says that this was documented by a Fluvanna County inspector, and Home Depot agreed to replace the roof.

Crenshaw claims that in the course of installing the new roof, Home Depot delivered the wrong kind of shingles "several times." The job wasn't finished until January 12, 2005, or 16 months after the defective roof had been installed. According to Crenshaw and Johnson, by then the house may have needed a lot more than a new roof. The combination of no ventilation and water damage, they assert, spawned so much mold that the house was uninhabitable.

Crenshaw filed a claim with Home Depot's insurance carrier, but it was denied; she states that the adjuster didn't check for mold. She hired her own inspector, Larry Sambrook from Airflow Diagnostics Institute, who reported "visible growth throughout the home on both levels" and significantly elevated levels of stachybotrys and aspergillum.

Stachybotrys, the so-called "toxic mold," has gotten a lot of press lately– including a recent cover story in The Hook ["This Mold House, March 31]– but there's no consensus about whether elevated levels are dangerous.

The Centers for Disease Control's website states that "At present there is no test that proves an association between Stachybotrys... and particular health symptoms. Individuals with persistent symptoms should see their physician. However, if Stachybotrys... or other molds are found in a building, prudent practice recommends that they be removed."

That's what Crenshaw wants Home Depot to do: remove the mold, repair the structural damage, and allow her to return to her home. She'd also like to be compensated for the cost of the apartment and Johnson's fees.

Her claim for damages, however, appears to be at a standstill. Johnson says that Home Depot has been dragging its feet since January; Home Depot, by way of Don Harrison, public relations manager for the southern division, charges that Johnson is "playing a waiting game."

If the roofers in Home Depot's network "meet or exceed the most stringent standards in the industry," as claimed on its website, I wondered how one of them could have installed a roof that had to be replaced almost immediately. So I asked Harrison what was involved in becoming one of Home Depot's "installation professionals," and he listed two requirements.

First, the applicant has to pass background and criminal checks. And second, he "has to demonstrate clearly that this is not Joe Six-Pack, working out of the back of his truck, taking money and going down the road."

Harrison added that Home Depot performs 11,000 installation jobs a day, and that 99 percent are successful. He realizes, however, that that's not much comfort to Crenshaw.

If there's any resolution to this apparent standoff, I'll let you know.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.