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Musty Culture: Mold an unwelcome guest at apartments
Erik Dodge
Antelope Staff

Lisa Kent paid to live alone at University Heights, but shared her apartment with an unwelcome guest—mold. Kent eventually moved out, but the mold stayed.

Kent lived in Room 109-B for more than a year and says she experienced frequent mold exposure. The political science major made more than a half dozen visits to her doctor and suffered from a variety of symptoms that got worse over time. Major outbreaks of symptoms she associated with mold led her to move out during the 2010 spring semester.

“My allergies flared up so bad I decided to move out. They gave me over spring break to move out and said they would give me a refund, and I’m like ‘I’ll take it,’” she said.

The 27-year-old suffered from allergies before, but never indoor allergies. Her allergies were mild at first but got much worse over time. When she moved in she was taking one allergy medicine; when she moved out she was on three and taking weekly shots. Mold gave her headaches, but that was only the beginning.

“When I went near mold, my heart started racing. My ears were ringing really bad, and my skin was itchy. My nose clogged and my sinuses flared,” she said.

Mold spores are everywhere, and are usually harmless. But if spores are in a high enough concentration they can cause a variety of health effects including nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). People with mold allergies can have more severe symptoms.

Humid areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and windows are the most common places for mold because it needs water to grow. Kent’s apartment had mold in the shower and on the windows. She says she was warned that the shower could get moldy and was told to leave the door open to limit the humidity. The mold on her windows gave her the most trouble because it was next to her bed.

“That wasn’t a good thing, but there was no place else to move my bed because any place you put your bed in a studio apartment will be pretty close to a window,” the senior said.

Someone from maintenance did respond to a work request she filed. She said there was no mold then because she had just cleaned, and she was told to handle the mold herself with a mixture of bleach and water. This advice is also given on the CDC website for mold on hard surfaces.  

Interim Director of Residential and Greek Life Dr. Gail Zeller said Kent’s situation was not ordinary, but was handled correctly. She was familiar with Kent’s story and believed the correct procedure had been followed.

There is a new resident in Kent’s old room, which was cleaned before anyone moved in according to Zeller. The new resident could not be reached for comment.

Viridiana Almanza moved into University Heights in August. The history major noticed a musty smell in her bathroom. She guessed the smell came from her toilet, even though she cleans it more than once a week. The Grand Island native also believed there was mold on her window.

Zeller said she believes the windows at University Heights are single pane, which was in line with regulations when the apartments were built. Single pane windows are more likely to accumulate moisture and offer less insulation than double pane windows, which are required on all newly constructed buildings. Buildings are required to meet the code in place at the time of construction.  

Almanza has experienced cold symptoms, but is not sure if they are related to mold. The 21-year-old said some of her friends who live at University Heights have mold but deal with it because rent is cheap.

“I talked to three or four people who said they had problems with mold. I asked them why they put up with it, and they said University Heights is the cheapest place around town,” Almanza said.   

University Heights is located approximately one mile north of campus and rent is listed at $320 or $390 a month on the UNK website. Rent would cost between $1,280 and $1,560 over a four-month semester compared to other campus housing, which ranges from $1,820 to $2,431.

ALSO: What can you do to prevent, control pesky MOLD?

University Heights was built in 1960 for $1,009,600 and would cost $5,108,782 to replace, according to the UNK facilities management and planning website.


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