Tenants battled 'extreme mould' for months
- Credit: Magdalena Meza Mitcher
A row between a landlord and letting agent left a young couple battling "extreme" mould and damp for five months.
Magdalena Meza Mitcher and Ben Skelton, both 23, moved into a house on Aylsham Road in Norwich at the beginning of September last year. At the time it was managed by agent Pymm & Co on behalf of landlord Ruth Friedman.
The tenants claim issues began at their mid-terraced, three-bedroom home within weeks of moving in.
They noticed "horrible" black mould growing on the walls of their porch and back bedroom, which were also wet to the touch. They reported this to the letting agent on September 26 and a contractor was sent out in mid-October.
A spokesperson from Pymm & Co said the reason for the delay was because there were over 40 properties needing repairs due to "freak weather" that weekend and a lack of contractors willing to work during the pandemic.
When Pymm & Co's contractor did assess the scale of the situation - which a spokesperson said revealed a "far from easy repair" - Ms Friedman rejected the quote as too expensive, opting to send further contractors to find a cheaper alternative, both Pymm and Ms Friedman said.
Ms Meza Mitcher said: "While the letting agent and landlord were having this debate about pricing, our mental health was deteriorating and the mould and damp were getting even more extreme.
"I was absolutely worn out, working two jobs and having to chase everyone involved at the same time. I even sought counselling.
"It was so upsetting. I felt ill because of the condition of the house."
The owner, after negotiations with Pymm & Co, agreed to a 20pc rent reduction for December and January - the months where the mould and damp were most severe. Ms Friedman said she did this "as soon as she understood the seriousness of the tenants' situation and how they were being impacted".
The works were finally carried out in January after a contractor was agreed. They involved repairing a leak in the back bedroom, creating an airflow in the porch, painting the porch walls and removing the damp in the sitting room.
But Ms Meza Mitcher claimed these were "inadequate" fixes and the mould simply returned everywhere but the back bedroom.
She said painting over the damp in the porch made the situation worse.
Eventually, the tenants moved out at the end of February, claiming they had "no faith" in either Pymm & Co or the landlord to resolve their increasingly "desperate" situation.
They also contacted Norwich City Council's environmental health department on November 21.
A council spokesperson said they advised them to work with the landlord to resolve the issues. This was then followed-up in December with a letter.
"Now we are aware of the problem we will be investigating the issue further," they said.
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According to Ms Friedman, who lives overseas, the wrangle was caused by communication issues and contractors failing to properly identify the root of the problems.
She said work had now been completed which had removed all of the damp.
“I am informed by my current agent that the new tenant has not reported any issues since," she added.
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Pymm & Co, meanwhile, said this was "not a straightforward case" and that as the "middle man" they can only act on the landlord's instruction.
They said they had apologised to the tenants but had been forced into a "difficult position".
Ms Meza Mitcher and her partner ended up turning to community union Acorn who helped them seek compensation.
Acorn began protesting outside Pymm & Co's office two weeks ago over the ordeal.
They and the tenants have drawn up a list of demands, such as a formal apology and compensation of £980 for the damages suffered.
Pymm & Co managing director Stuart Monument has, however, been critical of the organisation's actions, which he says at one point saw "15 protestors chanting outside the office in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic".
But Acorn said the peaceful demonstrations work to "promote fair treatment of tenants and empower communities to take action to improve their lives".