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Judge: Owner must pay to fix health hazard

  • TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Mold grows on living room rug and furniture in a vacant house at 132 W. Ridge St., Coaldale.
    TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Mold grows on living room rug and furniture in a vacant house at 132 W. Ridge St., Coaldale.
Published August 14. 2013 05:04PM

A Schuylkill County judge has ruled the owner of a vacant, mold-infested Coaldale house must ante up $2,393 to help fix the problem, and that the borough is allowed to enter the property to abate the nuisance.

The ruling, handed down by Judge John Domalakes on Aug. 6, was a bit of good news for Ron and Ruthanne Kehl, who live in the adjoining home at 134 W. Ridge St., and who have been battling for years to have the health hazard cleaned up.

But while the ruling opened the doors to a solution, the borough still needs to find the money to remediate the mold. The amount listed in the judgment is the estimated cost of mold abatement.

"I highly doubt we'll be able to collect on it," solicitor Michael Greek said of the judgment against property owner Lisa M. O'Brien.

O'Brien, who was evicted from the house at 132 W. Ridge St. in 2010 because of a long-neglected water leak, has moved to neighboring Lansford, and has been difficult to contact.

Councilman Thomas Keerans, sitting for President Susan Solt, asked Councilman David Yelito to contact county grant coordinator Gary Bender to see if any funds are available.

The Kehls, who attended a public council meeting Tuesday, appeared glad for the ruling, but frustrated that council has not been taking steps to find money for the project.

Ruthanne Kehl said the couple has been coming to meetings for three years to urge council to do something about the house. She said that during that time, council should have been working on getting the money together.

"I've been very patient in that this is a health hazard," she said. "I want it done. I want it taken care of."

When O'Brien left the house, she left it as it was: children's toys, family photos and clothing were strewn about; cereal boxes sat atop the refrigerator.

The electricity was turned off about a year after O'Brien left. The water leak continued, resulting in heavy mold infestation that has seeped through the common wall of the homes. Water has poured through damaged ceilings into the Kehl's home, damaging lighting fixtures, drywall and carpeting.

In May 2011, a hail storm punched holes in the already-compromised roof, exacerbating the water damage and causing the second floor of the house to collapse.

The Kehl's contacted an array of government agencies and elected officials, to no avail. The borough has cleaned up the trash strewn outside O'Brien's house, which helped curtail a rat problem.

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