Saturday, 2 Dec 2023

Veteran stuck in home so mouldy mushrooms are growing from the walls

A veteran is desperately demanding action after his home became caked in black mould and mushrooms began growing out of the walls, due to the scale of the damp in the property.

Tiles are crumbling beneath Alan Matthews’ feet in his on Persia Walk in Tunstall in the north of Stoke-on-Trent.

The 76-year-old, who has lived in the flat for a decade, said the issues began around three years when a neighbours bathroom began to leak.

Now the pensioner is at loggerheads with Stoke-on-Trent City Council over the condition of his property and is waiting on the outcome of council insurance claims.

The council even had to move him out of his home, such was its perilous state, and into a Premier Inn and then a Travelodge.

Alan told Stoke on Trent Live: “The problems started two to three years ago when my neighbour in the flat above had a wetroom fitted and it leaked. The water came into my property and completely ruined the walls.

“Black mould grew and the council sent someone out, knocked it back to brick, and then replastered. I had to repaint everything myself. In 2022, another leak happened – this time more severe – to the point where my carpet was damaged.

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“I put a claim into the council’s insurance company for £800 to replace my carpet, but I never heard anything back again.

“The council came out and supposedly fixed the problem again by knocking the walls back to brick and replastering. A family member ended up buying a new carpet for me because I hadn’t heard back from the insurance. It cost them £600.”

Things got worse for Alan at the end of 2022, after he went to visit his terminally-ill brothers in Australia.

Alan explained that while he was away he received a phone call from a friend who was keeping an eye on his home for him.

She rang and explained that the entire flat was flooded and that water was coming down the walls.

Thanks to the kindness of his friends, Alan was able to remain with his brother in Australia while they saw that damaged items were disposed of and belongings that were still intact were kept.

When he came back from Down Under, he said he contacted the council: “I returned from Australia in March and put both a complaint and an insurance claim into the council because my home wasn’t fit for habitation. There was black mould and mushrooms growing on the walls, the floor felt unsafe, and even the light fittings had rusted and had mould growing on them.”

After being put in a hotel for seven days by the council, representatives then decided that his home was once again fit habitation. During the period he’d been in the hotel, the council had installed a dehumidifier to draw some of then moisture from the home. The plaster was also knocked back to brick and replastered.

However the home was without a sofa, carpet or any other furnishings.

“At the end of March one of my brothers passed away, so I had to go back to Australia for a while to arrange and attend his funeral. Every time I’ve been to Australia I have made the council aware of my situation and that I would be away from my property for quite some time.

“Whilst I was away, my friend was looking after my property and she could smell damp and noticed mould on the walls. She leaned on the bathroom wall in the hallway to peer round and her hand went straight through the wall.

“Tragically, my other brother also passed away whilst I was over in Australia, so I didn’t end up getting back home until June 26. As the council didn’t replace the furnishings because this was something the insurance should cover, I’ve had to borrow a sofa, a TV, and a TV stand as I came home to nothing.”

To make matters worse, Alan noticed his neighbours faecal matter in his bath. He believes it arrived in his home due to leaks.

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He had to use a “portapotty” which the council had to come and clear every day. He branded it “disgusting”.

He added: “I haven’t smoked for more than 30 years and I used to serve in the army, so I’ve always been fit and healthy. Now I’ve got a constant cough and I’ve started to suffer with chest infections and I’m certain it’s because of the damp and mouldy conditions I’m forced to live in.

“I’m living in my bedroom because the rest of my flat isn’t fit to live in. The council says it’s habitable because it has a bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom, even though the lounge is growing mould, as is the bathroom and hallway, so I have to wipe the walls multiple times every day.

“I need to have surgery on my shoulder but I can’t because I would need to rest and recover at home and the air quality is too poor here and it’s not a comfortable place to live.

“It’s so difficult to get through to anyone. I don’t use the internet or smartphones and now I have to travel to Stoke to speak to a councillor.”

Councillor Chris Robinson, cabinet member for housing, said: “We are aware of the issues Mr Matthews has had with his property and have been working closely with him since March 2023 to rectify them.

“The damage to Mr Matthews’ home was caused by a leak from a neighbouring property. Since then, teams from Unitas have carried out extensive plastering, electrical and redecoration works at Persia Walk. While this work was being carried out, we were able to temporarily re-house Mr Matthews, ensuring he had a dry and safe place to stay.

“Mr Matthews has now returned to the property and a follow-up visit has been undertaken by our surveyor who has confirmed the property is in a good condition overall.

“We understand that Mr Matthews is proceeding with a claim for damages which is being processed by our insurance provider, Zurich. We have now contacted Zurich and requested that the tenant’s claim is looked at urgently.

“As Stoke-on-Trent’s biggest social landlord, we have a responsibility to ensure all of our homes are safe and well maintained. We have recently updated a number of housing policies to ensure our services remain fit-for-purpose and our work continues. We are currently developing a new policy to specifically address problems associated with damp and mould to ensure all residents have safe, warm and comfortable homes to live in.”

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