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Dexter couple says their complaints about moldy apartment prompted eviction notice

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DEXTER — Jason C. and Amber M. More, residents at Poole Memorial Apartments for seven years, say Frontier Housing Corp. is unjustly trying to evict them to silence their complaints about mold at their low-income apartment.

The Mores, who say they’ve repeatedly told the property management company about pervasive mold at their apartment and associated health problems, were shocked when they received an eviction notice from Executive Director Jill E. Evans on Feb. 26 due to an alleged violation of their lease agreement. That letter, which orders the couple to move out by May 1, asserts that Mrs. More failed to report income she received for baby-sitting during the previous week.

But the couple had documented those work hours with signed agreements they planned to submit to Frontier, Mr. More said. He called the move a hasty attempt to evict the couple from their two-bedroom apartment at the village complex.

Tenants who receive subsidized housing are required to report immediately any income changes of $100 or more per month, according to rural rental housing assistance guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development.

“They didn’t give us enough time to actually report the income before we got the letter,” said Mr. More, who expects the eviction dispute to be resolved in court.

Mrs. More, who was paid to baby-sit for five days during the week of Feb. 17, showed the Times proof of those signed agreements, which include how much she was paid, on Monday at the apartment. She said that when the couple attempted to submit those agreements to Frontier after getting the eviction letter, the company declined to accept them. They were told instead to contact its law firm, Schwerzmann & Wise PC, Watertown.

The Mores had the chance to submit those letters within 10 days to the law firm, but they decided not to do so, Mr. More said.

“I felt the effort would be pointless unless I submitted the documents in front of the judge,” he said.

The Mores, who have two children, ages 2 and 6, pay a monthly rent of $50 for their apartment. The remainder of the full rent owed to Frontier, $625, is covered by a federal subsidy from the USDA’s Office of Rural Development.

The couple now owes $110 in rent for the months of March and April, which includes a $10 late fee. But that debt didn’t contribute to the eviction notice, Mr. More said. The 28-year-old said he recently decided to boycott paying rent, due to Frontier’s failure to address complaints about mold.

On Friday, a Frontier representative said the company would not comment about Mr. More’s situation, or complaints about mold, and said its law firm would answer questions. Multiple calls made to Lucy M. Berkman, an attorney handling the eviction case at Schwerzmann & Wise, were not returned.

Mr. More said the couple experienced few problems at their apartment until January 2013, when Frontier took over management of the small complex from Doldo Real Estate, Watertown, which had managed the complex since it opened in the mid-1980s.

Before Frontier took over management of the complex, Doldo had replaced roofs of apartment buildings in the summer of 2012. In addition, doors leading to attic areas on upper-floor units — considered part of the mold problem — were sealed off. That project was subsidized by USDA’s Office of Rural Development.

But that effort didn’t solve the problem for the Mores, who appear still to have a leaky roof, Mr. More said.

The couple complained last summer about pervasive mold in their apartment, which Mr. More said has caused family members to get rashes during the winter months, when they spend most of their time indoors. He said his 6-year-old son, Damion M., has had ongoing respiratory problems because of the mold. The 3-year-old was taken to a pediatrician when the problem became severe.

“All of us have symptoms of inhaling black mold,” he said.

The Mores aren’t the only ones to experience health problems at the apartment complex. In February 2011, Tialisa A. Real said that Doldo Real Estate, which managed the property at the time, made her and her five children suddenly move out of their apartment and into another one at the complex because of an emergency situation caused by mold there. The move was made after her daughter, Rachel A., was hospitalized several times due to severe respiratory problems caused by mold, she said.

“I was given one day to move out of the apartment, and it was snowing,” Ms. Real said. “Our new apartment wasn’t ready, because they had to put fresh carpet in due to the mold here. But I was told that if I didn’t move out, I would be homeless.”

Though the three-bedroom apartment her family now lives in also has mold, Mrs. Real said the problem isn’t nearly as severe as it was at their old one.

“It was inside the closets, upstairs, downstairs — it was everywhere,” she said. “And it didn’t matter what we did, because it would just come back.”

About two weeks ago, a maintenance worker cleaned two of the worst moldy areas of the More apartment with bleach. Otherwise, only limited efforts have been made to address the problem, Mr. More said.

In June 2013, Frontier hired Converse Labs, Watertown, to conduct air-quality testing at the apartment, Mr. More said. But Mr. More said he was never informed by Frontier of the results of that testing, and he was dissatisfied that no samples of mold were tested.

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