Suburban family discovers hidden room filled with toxic mold and a taunting note

Marilyn sez, "A family doing chores in their recently purchased suburban house in South Carolina discovered a hidden room behind a bookcase, which revealed the truth about their house: it was permeated with toxic black mold."

Inside the room was a hand-written note.

The note said "You Found It!"

It turns out, the note explained, that the house was infested with "the worst types of mold including Stachybotrys, the so-called Toxic Black Mold," which can cause "respiratory bleeding" in infants.

The stunned homeowners, thinking they might be the victims of a weird hoax, hired an environmental engineer – only to discover that the problem was even worse than they thought; the house contained "elevated levels of several types of mold, including Aspergillus, Basidiospores, Chaetomiu, Curvularia, Stachybotrys and Torula." The town's local news station calls this "the horrible secret of Number 6 Whitten Street."

Link (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Update: Sam sez, "That picture seems to be something the blogger you linked to added himself/herself. I don't think it's a real picture from the house in the story. If you look at the original story, it seems like the secret room merely had the note in it... not all that huge, obvious mold growth that's in the picture. And actually, the originally story seems to indicate the folks that left the note were really trying to help the new homeowners in the only way they could. "

Update 2: Destiny sez, "The couple will be refunded the full cost of their house by Fannie Mae -- in exchange for removing them from their (still pending) lawsuit."


  1. That note is proof that the known problem was not disclosed, and if it can be linked to the former owner they might regret writing it.

  2. Where was the building inspector?

    When I bought a house about 2 years ago, I had to hire a building inspector to come through the house and look for problems like this, and the loan company also sent their own inspector in before they’d agree to sign off on the house. I can’t believe that two trained inspectors would have missed something so blatant.

  3. According to the previous owners didn’t know of the problem until their daughters got sick, they hadn’t the money to have the mold removed so they ceased to pay the mortgage and let the home go into foreclosure. They figured that the bank/realtor wouldn’t disclose the problem to the future owners and so they decided to leave a hidden note.

  4. #8 just beat me to it….
    Also, looking at the blogger site, that photo looks like it is just mold porn, not an actual photo of the house.

  5. “Clark Price, spoke to News 4 on the telephone, saying the home at No. 6 Whitten Street was sold “as is,” adding it was the Brown’s responsibility to have the home tested for mold.”

    I’d like to see these guys get there asses handed to them in court when they’re told yes, they did sell the house as is, but they also knowingly put someone into a dangerous situation. They should be criminally liable.

    As for the original owner/note writer

    “”I didn’t mean it to scare the Browns, which I think it did when they first read it,” Leventis said. “If I didn’t write it, it would easily happen again.”

    Does this strike anyone else as momumentally shit-brained? if the person really wanted to prevent it from happening again they’d have found a better way of alerting people than a note in a hidden room filled with toxic mold.

  6. “Man that’s terrible.

    Yes, leaving a note was incredibly stupid.”

    Because, you know, leaving the empty room to be found by future residents with no hint to the house’s problems, so that the current residents could experience its affects without having any idea what is going on would be much nicer and incredibly intelligent?

  7. How awful! It’s bad enough to discover all that mold, but to find a note like that!!! Wow, I can’t wait to hear about what happens in this case. I hope boingboing does a follow-up.

  8. Do you not have surveyors in the US? This kind of stuff, especially the existence of a “hidden room”, would come up on any survey done in the UK!

  9. While the note may have had a weird tone, the buyers were actually RELIEVED to have found it. I’d get rid of the “taunting” aspect of your title, it’s untrue. From the article posted by #8:

    The Leventises did the only thing they believed they could do, with no money in savings to have the mold removed. They stopped paying their mortgage and let the home go into foreclosure.

    But George Leventis knew the home someday could be re-sold, and he wanted to be sure the future owners knew about the mold. Leventis said what better way to warn them than to leave a note hidden from plain view.

    “I put it in the room because I didn’t want anyone to find it if it was left out in the house. I figured if someone else who had another interest or a stake in the house found it, they would just throw it away or they wouldn’t tell anyone,” Leventis said.

    The Browns say that is exactly what happened, and say if not for the note, their child may have become sick as well.

    “I’m very thankful he left the note. In my opinion, there’s a possibility he could have saved Megan’s life,” Kerri Brown said. (emphasis mine)

  10. The bank that resold the house is sooo screwed. Selling the house “as is” doesn’t relieve them of their legal obligation to disclose all known defects.

  11. “Because, you know, leaving the empty room to be found by future residents with no hint to the house’s problems, so that the current residents could experience its affects without having any idea what is going on would be much nicer and incredibly intelligent?”

    biting wit aside, if leaving no note is a 1 on the mean and stupd scale, leaving a note in a hidden room that actually contains the toxic shit for them to find later is probably a 2… 3 tops. If i thought that some other kids health was also at stake, after having been through it myself, I could see myself being a bit more proactive.

    Otherwise karma will make sure i’m someday sitting at the bottom of a well with a broken leg holding a note that reads “This hidden well is dangerous and you should probably board it up, we couldn’t afford to. Thanks”

  12. Is it just me, or is there nothing in the article about the room being filled with mold?
    I see two facts:

    1. Room has note in it about house mold.
    2. House is full of mold.

    It sounds like the problem is in the entire house, not just that room at all.
    The title of this entry is misleading, no?

  13. Luminifer, i think thats what people are misreading or not understanding, because otherwise i don’t get where some of these responses are coming from. Its not like the room wasn’t dangerous until they found it, and the note saved them, the room makes the entire house dangerous.

    Its a little biological dirty bomb.

  14. My impression was that the room wasn’t the source of the mold– the entire house was full of it, just not where it would be seen. The note seemed to explain that the problem was not isolated to the room. It looked more analogous to falling down a well you didn’t know was there and finding a note saying, “Hi there, just so you know, this system of caves runs under the entire house, and it may fall down at any moment.”

  15. My father’s a home inspector–did a lot of work down in New Orleans during Katrina and tried to do his best to help people keep or clean their homes–and let me tell you, I don’t know of any inspector worth his or her salt that wouldn’t have been able to find this problem–there’s no way it was just one room. Mold spreads; it was in the entire house and someone didn’t pick up on it or decided not to care.

    That’s the despicable part; there’s no way that someone with a home inspector is THAT incompetent…but there is a very real possibility that they decided to sell the house and just pay off the inspectors somehow. Not PROBABLE, but possible.

  16. Guys, the photo of the mold that accompanies the article is a stock photo, not the actual house. You can find it for yourself with a Google search.

    I commend the previous owner for placing the note. Real estate is a dirty, dirty business. I’ve had relatives who tried to become realtors, and listening to their stories is like listening to a “What Not To Do Because It’ll Land Your Ass In Jail” seminar.

    It’s a near certainty that if the real estate company the previous owners had hired to sell the house knew about the note, they would have removed it.

  17. So… Idea. Okay so the note guy should have went out to a store, got himself a cheap can of spray mold killer like Lysol, and essentially SPRAY PAINTED THE NOTE ON THE WALL INTO THE MOLD. Like ‘This is black mold. Buy more Lysol.’ I guess that wouldn’t have helped though…

  18. I think it’s interesting that a number of current american “hot button” issues are all found in this story.

    The lack of affordable health care, the lack of oversight in the lending/mortgage/real estate business, toxic molds and shoddy construction work.

    Strange confluence.

  19. Pretty much sums up what you are going to run into out there buying repo’d houses. The entity selling this type of property is selling it to recoup on a business transaction gone wrong and is willing to take great risk to get it off their hands. Simply put, do not allow them to arrange who does the house inspection and walk away if they don’t allow you to make this choice. Find someone you can trust and have a thorough inspection. It is highly foolish to skip the inspection process. The expense is recouped many times over if you are prevented from entering into a situation like this.

    We have a situation here in town where a land developer built a house over a water pit. The house is only two years old and the only cure for the problems it’s facing is to completely demolish it, rework the lot for proper drainage and rebuild. The rot to the beams under the house and the mold growth inside the walls is really that severe. The retired couple who bought it sunk their life savings into this horror and will never recover from this financial disaster. Given local building permit inspection experience with situations like this, I do not know how it passed inspection for the occupancy permit. Even new houses should be inspected before purchase, you cannot trust contractors to have any integrity in the current market.

  20. If you take the mold out of the situation, that note would actually be awesome. If I bought a house and stumbled upon a hidden room and found a note from the previous homeowner saying “you found it!” I would assume they decided to let me eventually find the secret on my own rather than ruin the surprise and in that context, the note would be cool.

  21. One thing is for sure:

    This situation is going to turn up on an episode of CSI.

    #27: A hidden room with a seated dummy wearing a hockey mask and a chainsaw in its lap would be even better.

  22. Haha, #9: “mold porn”

    and #27 for inventiveness

    but, it’s bad enough when stumbleuponers can’t be bothered to link to original stories, it’s worse when Boing Boing can’t be bothered to. The main link should go to the original story, and then thanks to the blogger who brought it to your attention. You shouldn’t link only to the bloggers reaction to the original story.

    Also, somebody needs to lose their ability to sell real estate.

  23. rather, #23 for inventiveness.

    Also, late at night writing “mold” in large letters in the front lawn with Round-up

  24. I’m conflicted. On one hand, I like secret rooms. On the other hand, I really dislike mold. But, I really really like secret rooms…

  25. If the mold/secret room was really that hidden, then it’s a latent defect that the seller is under an obligation to disclose, if they are aware of it. But if it would have been able to be discovered by a reasonably careful inspection by a qualified house inspector, it would fall under the doctrine of caveat emptor. If this is the case, either the buyers didn’t hire an inspector (in which case they’re screwed) or their inspector didn’t do their job well (in which case the inspector is liable).

  26. Regarding the home inspector, the original news story explains that they did hire a home inspector, but that the inspector didn’t find mold because airborne mold tests are not a customary part of home inspections in that area. I know they aren’t done as a matter of course in Washington. (You need to explicitly hire a specialist for that.)

    Like most homebuyers, Jason and Kerri Brown got a home inspection before they bought the house. But the Browns acknowledge that the inspection did not include a mold test. Most home inspections do not.
    “That is true. I signed it. I initialed it,” Kerri Brown said.

    Also, like #28 I don’t understand why BoingBoing insists on linking to opinion blogs talking thirdhand about these news stories instead of linking to the original news stories themselves, which have all the context and undistorted facts.

  27. I perform property inspections, and I’ve never once found a note. People won’t willingly disclose anything they might just get away with.

    What the former homeowner -should- have done is notify his local board of health, a regular point of information for inspection professionals.

  28. About linking to a blogpost on a story:

    If the blog about the story has interesting analysis or something else that adds value, it’s ok.

    In this case I haven’t got an opinion, since I didn’t rtfa.

  29. Oh Shi–

    And I thought the mould around my window frame was harmless.

    May get that checked out now…

  30. And I thought the mould around my window frame was harmless.

    The odds are good that it is. Thankfully these cases, from what I understand, are a minor portion of all mold cases in homes.

    In the immortal words of the bard: don’t panic. ; )

  31. Just wanted to mention, I went through a horrific flood experience with a literally-hope-she-AND-her-loved-ones-die-painfully landlord c-rag about four months ago.

    A big consideration in our withholding of the rent was a rainstorm flood that revealed patches of dark mold underneath the carpet and in the bathroom. I had already called DoH and an inspecter was sent, and although he noted certain points of damage, he refused to write down anything about the mold. Why? Because the proper methods to test for mold are time-consuming and expensive, and the only people who would do it in a housing case are either loaded with disposable income or certain they are gonna get an enormous payday, but it’s doubtful. Either way, the DoH themselves will only fund such an inspection if anybody gets deathly ill and they’re hand are tied (at least, this was the case in Upstate NY were the laws tend to favor landlords).

    Even the insurance agent who came and inspected the house pointed out the mold and wrote it down in her report. Truth is, however, neither of them could have been 100% certain about the mold.

    I find it interesting that a state worker wouldn’t indicate it as such and an insurance agent would.

    The point of this long post, is that toxic mold is often a catch-22. Do you spend the large amount of money to find out it’s not toxic or “black” mold? or do you sit in your house and inhale the fumes getting sicker and sicker? How do you legally withhold rent when you can’t be sure? How do you prove to a judge you broke a lease or withheld rent when you can’t bring any proof of health concerns aside from a few racy pictures of mold porn (and your own sick family I suppose)?

    In our case, we got screwfucked. I think our Legal-Aid lawyer put it best when she gave this advice, post-settlement: “Don’t be a tenant in Upstate NY.”

  32. Finding toxic black mold in a secret room is bad, but at least it wasn’t a gelatinous cube or a beholder, you have to be at least 9th level before you can handle one of those.

  33. 1) When me and my wife were looking for/buying our 1st home, the building inspectors were very careful to indicate in writing that they were not experts on mold/mildew/fungus type problems and that if we had such concerns about the properties we were to invest in, that we would need to hire a separate mold, etc. specialist to come out and test the property as well. This was boilerplate text written into the inspector’s contract leading me to believe it is standard operating procedure for more than just our specific inspector/s. 2) One of the first places we looked at (but didn’t buy) was an apartment/condo in Long Beach that smelled terrifically of mold or mildew. Asking the Realtor point blank about the smell we were met with quizzical responses, such as, “Huh, what are you talking about?” We passed on this place and looked at another and when we got more serious about wanting to buy we thought very seriously about a mold, etc. inspection (perhaps because of what we’d seen, er smelled, the previous day) and when we contacted one of these inspectors what we were told is that this inspector would have to go into the property and knock holes in the wall every few feet or so in each room.. and, that we would have to pay to have all of those holes then patched up, after the test was complete – all together costing a small fortune – and even then (because it was a condo) we were told we would have no idea if there was mold elsewhere in the building which could easily spread towards our unit, and which would not be covered/protected by the inspection we were paying for.. in short, if mold appeared later — we were S.O.L. regardless of the tests we’d performed prior to purchase.. making the inspections essentially valueless in our eyes.. not sure where I’m going with this, except to say that for people in this discussion that are blaming the property inspector/s here for failure to find the problem, I would say it seems likely they might be able to wriggle off the hook on that one.. However, I think there is a legal requirement to disclose all known defects on a property.. proving in a court who knew about a defect and when may be kind of difficult, however and I hope that these people at least used a realtor (not a FSBO, etc.) and got proper contracts signed, etc. so there is adequate recourse. Unfortunately this mold thing has been a hot button issue (in the R.E. Community) for a number of years now so everyone has had time to cover their butts to a degree.. still this sounds like a lawsuit to me, I hope the people can get at least *some* of their money back.. ALSO: How did the appraiser miss the secret room? That seems odd to me.. they measure the place out and draw a floorplan for the appraisal, and surely they would have noticed an odd void space within the house/ behind the bookcase. “As is” doesn’t mean the bank doesn’t require an appraisal. Oftentimes it’s a red flag that the property is damaged goods and requires a more careful inspection/review not less for the collateral review. I would suggest Policy Holders of America as a good place to start for non-profit advocates if you are looking for some general info./help as far as how to go about getting some satisfaction here (if at all possible). Good luck.

  34. Ok so I’m thinkin’ we will soon read that the mold pattern has suggested a sacred image by someone who claims healing after beholding the photo.It will then be declared holy and the little hidden room will become a shrine. Just a tweaked pondering.

  35. I think maybe I’m missing something here. I know that hiding the note was supposed to keep it from a third party, but suppose the family had never found the secret room? Wouldn’t it have been a lot safer to wait until the family moved in, knock on their door, and actually TELL them that the house is infested with mold?

  36. I haven’t seen this anywhere else in the comments, but here’s the resolution(ish) from

    Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association, finally agreed to buy back the Brown’s home for the original selling price of $75,000. As a result, Fannie Mae will be dropped from the Brown’s lawsuit.

    But their litigation continues against Century 21 Flynn & Youngblood and Realtor Sue Bakx. Again, neither party would comment for this story.

  37. Is it just me or does anyone else see the image of the Virgin Mary in the lower right hand corner of that mold?

  38. Getting a mold test is an option on most home inspections. If it’s not visible the inspector won’t find it without the optional test. In addition if it wasn’t plainly visible then the Realtor and bank wouldn’t know about it. The only one at fault is the previous owner because he likely signed an agreement with information about known problems like this.

  39. When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession;

    And he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house:

    Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go into it to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house:

    And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, which in sight are lower than the wall;

    Then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days…

    (Leviticus 14)

  40. Most of you aren’t reading the original post. The guy who left the note had his house FORECLOSED. He had NO IDEA who was going to buy it, so he couldn’t contact them any other way. But he knew that the greedy bastards who had sold a mold-infested house to him would likely pick it up off the repo market and resell it to another unfortunately naive couple.

    So, he left a note, hidden so it wouldn’t be destroyed by said greedy bastards. Nicely done, I think. I suppose he could have swung by and told them personally, but he would have to keep an eye on the house for months. I think he did all right.

    Of course, the new couple’s inspector should have found the hidden room, if he was doing his job properly, I think. On the other hand, if he’s inspecting $75,000 homes, he may not the best in the business.

    Still, read the whole article. The previous owner isn’t the bastard here.

  41. How is it that mold,and a lot of other things with which humans have been living so long and had up until now seemingly developed immunity, is now causing such terrible effects. Are they real? Are they just immagined? I know that when I put an xmas tree in a room people like the smell, but open a can of turpentine and they all complain that they can’t breath…same with latex it something they imagine? I mean, some of that mold might be edible and based on cheese based on the nomenclature used in the article. The fact that a company that makes its money convincing you to have them remove the difficult problem on mold…even the slightest trace of it…well, leaves me sceptical of the entire story.
    Recently read an article that blamed a lot of our problems with the recent rise in auto-immune diseases on the fact that we in developed countries have eliminated blood worm parasites from our system and that they might have been instrumental in our body’s setting-up its immune system properly and effectively. So, our passion for cleanliness is undermining our health…and the passion is based on smart people presuming that their intelligence is valid outside of their fields…an age old tale. By the way Xeni…loved your essay over at the Edge on “changing ones mind”. I think we all need to “change one’s mind” about how we interpret the environment we live in and how fear drives us to even worse conditions…the panic over global warming comes to mind…not the genuine concern, but the media fuelled anxiety is leading to some very stupid decisions being made by people who are smart enough to convince us they know what they’re talking about but in reality even the experts are somewhat perplexed by the complexity they see, even if some prime minister isn’t.

  42. I’m still curious about why there was a secret room in the first place? Also, how could a home inspector not find a secret room? Surely the layout of the house should have tipped him off that there was more home left to inspect…

  43. the secret room is because of the persistent and dishonest (and primitive)marijuana laws. If not for these,there would have been no grow-op and therefore no mold.

  44. If new homeowners would stop killing baby Ohmu, the Sea of Decay would stop spreading. Jeez, people!

  45. Though the home was foreclosed, the previous owners still could have directly contacted the new owners. Although they wouldn’t know who those people would be, they still know where the house is! (and it’s address, so why not a letter?).

    Putting the note in the secret room was kind of strange. I would have removed whichever wall made the room a “secret” so it would all be out in the open (it’d be the last thing I did before vacating).

  46. re: faces in everything!

    All you need is three spots in a triangular pattern, and you’ll have a face with two eyes and a mouth!

    The note…had I been in their unfortunate place, I would have talked to the neighbours, and have the neighbours talk to the new owners.

    This whole thing sounds bizarre, why hide the room behind a bookcase? Is the mold there more hard to hide than the rest of the house? Why didn’t the bank did some concealing evil stuff like wallpaper over it?

    The more I hear about toxic mold, the more I’m glad that what the last owner of my house hid was leaks from the roof. That could lead to mold, if our houses isn’t one of those sturdy old ones with non-porous wall materials. I rather have a small sturdy old house than a big weak thing.

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