A Chilliwack family of six is living in a tent this week, just steps from the house they rent on Majuba Hill.
But they’re not doing it for the adventure.
Andrew Philliskirk, his spouse, and their four children, have moved outside to avoid breathing in the air in their home. He says a mould problem has gotten out of hand in a bathroom, with millions of mites that cause short and long term health problems.
“The mites have just exploded,” he says. “Our pest guy said, ‘yes, these guys will bloom, it’s a seasonal thing.’
The family has spent $650 on an air quality sample, which Philliskirk says detected aspergillis, a fungus that grows in damp spaces and can lead to lung problems.
But they didn’t need the test to prove what’s growing in the house.
“You can see them, but it’s what’s in the walls, there’s millions of them,” he says. “They are tiny but you get a magnifying glass and you can see them.”
He has posted pictures of the mites, both as seen by the naked eye and under a microscope, on an ad on Craigslist. He’s not trying to warn people so much as he is looking for help. They’ve been looking for any sort of help for weeks on end, being sent in an endless circle from one organization to the other.
He’s tried to get help and/or information from their landlord, the city, Fraser Health, the Rental Tenancy Board, Health Canada, the Centre for Disease Control, pest and air quality experts, and even a lawyer.
“I’ve thought about becoming an ombudsman for the province,” he says, to help others in the same situation.
Philliskirk and his spouse are in a unique situation to know exactly what they’re dealing with. He is a contractor and a home inspector, and she is a microbiologist.
They initially spent several nights in hotels to escape the mould, which Philliskirk says could have been caused by the lack of insulation and vapour barrier on the bathroom’s exterior wall. He says he informed his landlord of the problem about a year ago, and with no response was left to fix it on his own.
But the mould spores grew anyway.
They had the chance to look at the spores under a microscope.
“They’re pretty creepy,” Philliskirk says. “Their little poo pellets are really bad to breathe in.”
They’ve been given a two month eviction notice for the landlord to do renovations, and the house is currently listed for sale. So far, they are the ones who have paid for all the testing and temporary abatement of the problem — they’ve sealed off the bathroom with poly and duct tape, spend most of their days and nights outside, and wear breathing masks when entering the house.
“The kids have made a little game of it,” he says.
This week, they had a little more luck with the Rental Tenancy Board, and have an arbitration phone call set up for mid-August. Next, he will seal the bathroom shut, by caulking, taping and boarding it up in order to “fog” the entire house and encapsulate the mould spores.
“It’s just a temporary fix to make it safe to get back in the house,” he said, so they can focus on looking for a new home rather than worrying about this one.
They’ve also booked the entire family for testing on their lungs. The whole process has been eye opening for Philliskirk.
“It’s made me a professional renter,” he says. “I’ve bought and sold, we’ve been homeowners, and we’ve rented to people and we’ve rented from people. I’ve seen things from both sides, and now it really makes me leery of what landlords can do if the tenants are uninformed.”
But he’s looking forward to the arbitration, and having the house fogged so they can live a somewhat normal life until it’s time to move.
“This has consumed us for like a month now, almost every hour, thinking about it every day, wondering ‘what do we do?'”
Philliskirk’s landlord, Cooky Singh, was contacted by The Progress.
He expressed shock at his tenants’ situation.
“A tent?,” he said. “Geez. That’s amazing. I know that we’re doing renovation work to it.
“You’re kidding. I’m going to look into this.”
Fraser Health does not get overly involved with mould issues, as it’s not their expertise
Timothy Millard, an FHA health protection manager for Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Mission, says there would have to complex, extenuating circumstances and documentation for them to step in.
Instead, they direct people to the RTO, and connect them with websites for the CMHC and HealthLink BC.
While he said they don’t get complaints on a regular basis, they do spike during the wetter months when mould grows more quickly. But not all mould is dangerous, he added.
“There are huge varieties of mould and mould affects each person differently,” he explained.
He said they get more involved in communities where there is a city bylaw, such as New Westminster.
“That housing bylaw gives us the authority to remediate,” he said.
A remediation company would be able to tell a homeowner or renter if a mould is dangerous, and whether the infestation would require something as simple as a wipe down, or as complex removal of affected drywall.