2 Investigates: Tenants say mold problems persist at luxury South Bay apartments

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - Tenants of The Sycamores, part of the North Park Apartment Village in San Jose, say mold has become what some call the development's "best kept secret."

Now, some residents say a 2012 lawsuit suggests apartment managers knew about potential problems with the building before they moved in.

Forced to Move

Justin Keller told 2 Investigates that finding mold growing on the wood frame of his bed in early 2015 was a breaking point for him and his fiancé. The couple says they had been finding mold in their apartment since mid-2014.

"It was just covered in mold and I just freaked out," said Keller.

Despite repeated visits from maintenance, Keller says the mold kept reappearing on the couple's furniture, the window sill of their apartment and even their clothes.

"When it started going all over our stuff, it just became too unbearable," said Keller.

Documents show an inspector with the City of San Jose found code violations related to the mold and ordered apartment management to clean the unit.

Keller and his fiancé moved out. North Park managers agreed to temporarily place them in a furnished unit until mold abatement in their apartment was complete.

2 Investigates Hires Inspector

Keller invited 2 Investigates inside his empty unit after apartment managers told him it had been cleaned. Keller and his fiancé say they were told to move back in or pay more for a different unit, but the couple was not convinced their apartment was really mold free.

2 Investigates brought in an independent inspector, Tom Todd, who took air samples both outside and inside Keller's apartment. The samples were sent to an accredited and certified company, Southeast Environmental Microbiology Laboratories, Inc.

The lab returned results indicating "elevated mold conditions" inside Keller's former unit. Indoor air levels were five times higher than the levels found in the outdoor air sample.

KTVU also sought out the opinion of tenants rights attorney, Joe Tobener, who was not involved in the case.

"Clearly, in this example you provided, the landlord did not do proper mold remediation. The levels are very high," said Tobener.

Lawsuit: "Water Intrusion"

2 Investigates found a lawsuit filed by North Park Apartment Village owner, The Irvine Company, against the builders of The Sycamores in 2012. The complaint alleges breach of contract for construction defects including "water intrusion."

"A sophisticated landlord, like an LLC from Irvine that has a lot of property, is going to know 'water intrusion' equals mold," said Tobener. "To the extent that a landlord knows about a defect at a property before a tenant moves in... the landlord needs to disclose that to the tenant."

Company Response

2 Investigates called managers at The Sycamores for comment and was contacted by property's owner, The Irvine Company, in Southern California. The company declined an interview request, but emailed a written statement to KTVU.

"The Irvine Company has a long history of operating the finest apartment communities in California, and we have a proven record of providing excellent service to our residents.

When we found mold in... Mr. Keller's apartment, we determined that it was not caused by water intrusion, but by high humidity, lack of ventilation and living conditions.

Though the mold was caused by the residents and allowed to spread, we still moved them, at no charge, into a hotel and later into a furnished apartment while the remediation was being done. As additional goodwill gestures, we provided nearly $6,000 in cleaning for their clothes and property, allowed them to store the cleaned clothes and property in a third apartment, and offered $2,500 to replace damaged property."

A company spokesman also wrote that The Irvine Company's own experts found the results of the test conducted for 2 Investigates to be "invalid." However, a second email from the company suggested its own testing reached a similar conclusion.

"We submitted your testing to a second environmental consultant, and he recommended additional, more thorough testing. The results showed an unacceptable level of mold spores in the air, so we will be performing more cleaning to remove the mold spores."

Keller and his fiancé insist they did nothing wrong and are not responsible for the mold in their apartment.

More Problems Reported

Other tenants at The Sycamores told 2 Investigates they have also had problems with mold in their apartments. Kimberly Cates said she noticed mold in her unit the day she moved in and believes mold is an issue for others too.

"I always kind of think it's the best kept secret of North Park," said Cates.

The inspector brought in by 2 Investigates also took air samples in Cates' apartment. While the results from that test did not indicated elevated levels, Cates says apartment managers should have warned her about potential problems before she moved in.

"They told me it was safe. When you hear that and yet you know they're suing the builders, i.e. they know? It pisses you off," said Cates.

Keller and his fiancé say they've now moved out of the North Park Apartment Village, but they're still negotiating with management to try to cover their losses.