After more than a year of listening to a West Ridge Street couple's pleas to Coaldale borough council to do something about a vacant, mold-infested house that's attached to theirs, officials on Tuesday finally took the first steps toward acquiring and tearing down the property.
Code Enforcement Officer Jamie Lee Nicholas said that as of Thursday, he will be able to begin to cite owner Lisa O'Brien, who was evicted from the house at 132 W. Ridge in April 2010 after an ongoing water leak from faulty plumbing made the house unfit to live in. It is now up for tax sale. Nicholas was hired on Oct. 11, and was only just recently certified to inspect properties and issue citations.
Councilman David Yelito said he will contact Schuylkill County grant writer Gary Bender to see what, if any, money is available to demolish the house.
Ron and Ruthanne Kehl, who live in 134 W. Ridge, were relieved that the wheels have finally begun to turn.
"This is a living nightmare," Ruthanne told council at a public meeting Tuesday.
The Kehl's have been fighting for more than a year to fend off the creeping invasion of mold through a shared wall with O'Brien's house. They use ammonia to slow the growth, and recently hired a Reading company for $1,000 to determine what kinds of mold are multiplying in O'Brien's house. The eight-page report "was not good," Ruthanne Kehl told council. Ron Kehl said the toxic mold spore count inside the basement of their home was 11,000 times higher than outside. On the first floor, it was 1,700 times the number. The Kehl's cannot allow their 3-week-old granddaughter to visit.
He told council it would cost at least $15,000 to repair the damage the mold has already caused to their house. Insurance won't cover that cost, he said. Ruthanne Kehl said that replacing the shared wall won't fix the problem unless the source of the mold growth is removed.
The couple has been appealing to council, to the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to help with the problem. But none of the three were able to help. The former borough code officer, who evicted O'Brien, did not cite her.
One person had expressed interest in buying the house, but that fell through.
The Kehl's finally asked state Sen. David G. Argall for help. Argall on Oct. 21 visited their home and then talked with borough officials. The conclusion was that the ball is in the borough's court.
"All fingers are pointing at this borough," said council President Susan Solt.
Councilman Joseph Hnat called for council to tear down the house.
"Get prices for knocking it down," he said.
But in order to demolish it, the borough must go through the steps needed to cite the owner and acquire the house.
Meanwhile, O'Brien's house continues to deteriorate from water leaks coming through the roof, which was damaged in the spring hail storm. Coaldale firefighters put a tarp on the roof, but water still comes through. Ceiling tiles in O'Brien's house are falling down and the plaster is crumbling.
"Everything is still collapsing in that house," Ron Kehl said.
He said that at 11:04 p.m. the other night, he was awakened by a loud "bang" from the house.
"I don't know if the second floor came down. I can see through the front window that everything's falling down in there," he said. "It's just a terrible situation."