Monday, October 8, 2007

Couple spent $1.4M on a home but can't get mold out

New York Daily News
Monday, October 8th 2007, 1:09 PM

Sometimes even the very rich cannot solve the ordinary nuisances of apartment living in New York City.

Take the case of Norman and Janet Baker of the upper East Side. They have spent more than $1.4 million to try to stop pervasive leaks and an overwhelming mold infestation in their $4 million, three-bedroom penthouse duplex at Madison Ave. and 80th St.

The mold has forced them and their teenage daughter out of their co-op home with its four terraces and knockout views of Central Park - and has taken over their lives.

"It's not just the money, because you can't buy the months and years back," Janet Baker said.

The Bakers have spent months living at The Carlyle hotel the past four years. One three-month stay cost $35,000. Today they're renting an $8,500-a-month apartment around the corner from their co-op.

The ordeal has spawned a daisy chain of lawsuits. The Bakers sued the co-op board, the building corporation and the managing agent. In turn, those entities sued two roofers, alleging they failed to repair leaks - and the roofers sued the structural engineer.

"And the leaks still haven't been fixed," Norman Baker said. "And we haven't gotten a penny back."

The Bakers' tale shows how the lives of even the most affluent can be turned upside down by circumstance. Their dilemma is one example, albeit severe, of leaks and mold that affect thousands of apartments in the city.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, housing inspectors handed out 13,935 mold violations to landlords of multiunit dwellings. About 15% of those posed an immediate health threat and were ordered corrected within 24 hours.

While mold is typically a problem in rundown buildings, it also affects the high end. Bianca Jagger had to abandon her Park Ave. apartment, and Ed McMahon has filed a $20 million mold suit over his Beverly Hills home.

The Bakers' horror story began in July 2003, when they noticed black splotches on their 26th-floor bedroom wall. An environmental testing company found they had high levels of seven different kinds of mold.

Mold soon ate their carpets and furniture, and the Bakers moved into The Carlyle. In October 2003, they moved back to their apartment after a mold remediation company ripped down affected wallpaper and sprayed and cleaned.

"They came in 'Ghostbuster' suits," Janet Baker recalled.

In December 2003, a structural engineer found damage to the roof above the Baker's apartment and damage to brick and mortar from rainwater.

The Bakers continued to stay in the apartment, but in March 2004, they found broken brick and concrete on their terrace. The city Buildings Department issued a violation against the co-op. Two months later, the first roofer began work, but heavy September rains triggered flooding.

"The Fire Department came because water was pouring out of the electrical panel," said Janet Baker. The firefighters told the Bakers to evacuate. Over the next nine months, the Bakers evacuated and returned seven times.

"Whatever furnishings weren't damaged went into storage," Janet Baker said.

Finally, workers began gutting the once-sumptuous apartment. It turned out the roof, parapets and exterior brick walls were damaged and had insufficient drainage, according to engineers' reports.

They've been living in their two-bedroom rental for more than two years, but have continued to deposit the $5,300 monthly maintenance on their co-op into an escrow account.

"Eighty percent of the time I'm crying, and the rest of the time I have to find a joke," Janet Baker said.

The apartment smells dank and earthy, despite large sections of wood floors, walls and ceilings being ripped out.

Janet Baker charges that the co-op board president and managing agent ignored the problem by insisting there was no mold or moisture.

Bernard Friedman, head of Penmark Realty Corp., the managing agent, did not respond to calls, nor did a lawyer for the structural engineer. A lawyer for the roofers declined comment.

Co-op board President Bernard Klapper wouldn't discuss the case but did say, "I'm not minimizing their difficulties."

Adding insult to injury, the Bakers' home insurance policy does not cover the damage.

"So this is where we are," said Norman Baker with a shrug and a deep sigh, looking out over the terrace. "We're not filing any claim that the mold made us sick, but we really, definitely would like to get our apartment fixed up, and move back in."

Norman and Janet Baker return temporarily to mold-infested home on the upper East Side. Family has been forced to rent another apartment nearby.

Bakers' penthouse duplex shows the ravages of mold and the extensive work that has been carried out in a vain attempt to fix the mess.

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