COLUMBIA — Jill Majerus was going back and forth to the doctor for nosebleeds, severe headaches and rashes. She thought it was stress.
Then she noticed an unfamiliar but worsening stench in her apartment. The complex manager told her it was a dirty dog.
"I don't have a dirty dog," she said.
It wasn't until a neighbor came over and said, "You have mold," that she realized the source of the health issues for her and her three teenage children.
She's convinced the mold stemmed from water that leaked or gushed into her bottom-floor unit several times over the past two years that the complex's management team did little to address. A wet-dry vacuum was brought in once for saturated carpet. She took pictures of rotting plywood under her sink.
She called the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to request a mold test — or at least guidance on what to do — and learned the state has no rules or standards about mold and offers no help. She called the Department of Consumer Affairs. But the state's lack of regulations means that agency can't do much other than make a landlord aware of a potential problem.
But the complex dismissed Majerus' concerns, saying "there's mold everywhere."
Majerus' problem was far from unique. The bulk of mold complaints the consumer affairs agency receives comes from renters, said Administrator Carri Grube Lybarker.
State law provides two options if a landlord chooses not to make a repair: Either move or take the owner to magistrate court in hopes the judge will order a fix.
Renters who call the consumer agency are advised how they can legally break a lease and not pay penalties. That requires putting their concerns in writing and, if the mold is affecting the renters' or their children's health, notifying the landlord — again, in writing — they're leaving if the problem's not fixed in 14 days.
That was the solution for more than a dozen complaint cases closed as "satisfied" since 2014, according to the agency's records.
For Majerus, she moved out in September after indoor air tests she paid for found high levels of two types of mold. A specialty doctor she found in Charleston, and paid for out of pocket, found toxic mold in her 14-year-old daughter's bloodstream. She's been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Majerus didn't need to give notice to move. Her lease was up anyway.
Two months later, her health has improved, but her daughter is still undergoing treatment.