A family who lived in East Campus Housing is suing the University of Oregon for $750,000, claiming the university violated the state’s landlord and tenant act and that they were sickened by mold in the attic due to the university’s negligence.
According to the complaint, Paul and Emily Meng and their two children suffered symptoms consistent with mold exposure and diagnostic tests confirmed the presence of mold in the attic of their home.
University officials declined to discuss the Mengs’ claims or to produce any inspection records for the residence, citing the ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit, filed in July, marks the second time residents of East Campus Housing sued the university because of the conditions of facilities. In September 2016, a law student and UO employee sued the university for $74,017 after they had to vacate an East Campus House that was contaminated with lead paint. The case was settled in fall 2017 and the couple received a $120,000 settlement.
East Campus Housing units are rented to graduate students, including those who may have families, and the houses range from one to five bedrooms. Paul Meng is a doctoral candidate pursuing a degree in special education. Many of the properties are on Moss, Columbia and Villard streets. The UO’s Public Records Office says the university has managed more than 70 East Campus Housing units over the last 50 years.
The Mengs’ complaint states that in summer 2017, the ceiling of the house located at 1709 Moss St. began to sag due to roof leaks and the university’s lack of maintenance. According to the complaint, the members of the Meng family began to suffer symptoms consistent with mold exposure in September. Paul Meng suffered symptoms such as severe headaches, sinus infections, swelling in his extremities and bleeding rashes. Emily Meng suffered from a variety of symptoms, including severe headaches, vertigo and recurring sinus infections.
The complaint claims that the Mengs’ children also suffered symptoms of mold exposure, including stomach aches and changes in behavior, such as irritability and personality and neuro-cognitive problems. As a result of the symptoms and mold, the family said it had to vacate the house and move and is now seeking compensation for the costs of mold-sampling diagnostic tests and past and future medical expenses.
The family is also suing for loss and contamination of personal property, moving expenses and noneconomic damages that occurred as a result of the violation of the residential landlord tenant act.
“They’re not activists; they got a couple of sick kids and they’re sick themselves,” said Calvin “Kelly” Vance, the Meng family’s lawyer. Vance specializes in toxic mold litigation and represented the plaintiffs who sued the UO in 2016.
The complaint claims that the UO failed to maintain the property in a “safe and habitable” condition — a violation of Oregon’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The complaint also stated that the university was negligent because it failed to inspect, discover, prevent or abate the mold contamination.
Emily said the ceiling would “bubble up” and that she contacted the UO three or four times about the issue.
“We contacted them multiple times and asked them for different abatements. Every time our ceiling had an issue, we called it in,” she said. “We didn’t know it was mold, but we contacted them about our ceiling. Our ceiling would make this big bubble, they would come in and pop the bubble and patch it.”
The Emerald submitted a public records request on Sept. 13 for the inspection records of East Campus Housing residences.
UO spokesperson Molly Blancett then contacted the Emerald on Sept.17 to set up a meeting with Adam Jones, the university’s building environmental science manager. The Building Environmental Science team coordinates inspections and project management and oversees mold prevention.
But two days later, the UO Office of Public Records told the Emerald that the university would not be able to discuss East Campus Housing as there is “litigation pending related to these properties.” In an email, the records office said it also would not produce inspection records for the properties because those records would likely be part of litigation, and those types of records are exempt under Oregon’s Public Records Law.
Vance says that whenever he has a client who believes they have been exposed to mold, he urges them to act quickly.
“When people call me, I tell them there are three things they have to do,” Vance said. “They need to have the place tested, find a doctor that understands mold and can treat and do the right testing on you, and you need to move.”
Vance said he recommends his clients ask their doctors for a medical test that will determine if they have been exposed to mold.
The units in East Campus Housing were built decades ago, and according to county records, the house the Mengs were renting was built in 1938. The house involved in the 2016 litigation, located at 1822 Moss St., was built in 1927.
“These are old houses that need maintenance and the university isn’t doing maintenance, so roof leaks become a bigger problem than they would be if you got on it and just fixed it,” Vance said. “The university is just renting these places to students and thinking the students aren’t going to do anything about it.”
The Emerald will continue to report on this story as it develops.