NORFOLK, VIRGINIA. A Navy family is suing the company that manages
thousands of military housing units in Hampton Roads, alleging that a
severe mold infestation caused them a variety of ongoing health problems.
The lawsuit, which seeks $3.7 million in damages, is the second
mold-related suit against Lincoln Military Housing to reach federal court
in Norfolk. Lincoln manages about 4,400 rental units in the region in a
public-private partnership with local military bases.
At least five more cases are pending in state court.
In the latest case, Natasha Chaparro and her husband, Petty Officer 2nd
Class Angel Manuel Chaparro-Mendoza, allege that their entire family
became ill over a nearly two-year period, during which heavy mold growth
was found in their townhouse near Norfolk Naval Station.
After repeated complaints, the family ultimately was moved into
temporary Navy housing while repairs were made. They moved back into their
house two weeks ago.
An attorney for the management company said the amount of mold found in
the home was minimal and Lincoln will vigorously defend itself against the
Lincoln has a long-term lease arrangement with the government under a
1996 privatization initiative aimed at maintaining and improving the
military's aging housing stock.
The families suing the Texas-based company say it operated with little
or no oversight from local military commanders and was slow to respond to
moisture and mold issues.
The Chaparros moved into their house on Noemfoor Avenue with their two
young sons in May 2010. Within weeks, they were dealing with water leaks,
first with a toilet and then with the dishwasher. In each case, they
allege, it was a week or more before maintenance workers responded to
their calls, by which time the leaks had caused discoloring and peeling of
the linoleum floors.
By August 2011, the Chaparros allege, visible mold was growing on the
dining room ceiling and ceiling fan, every air vent in the house and the
crib of their younger child, 2-year-old Gabriel. The entire family became
sick, requiring numerous emergency room and doctor visits, they say.
"It seemed like we had yearlong allergies, all of us," Natasha Chaparro
said in an interview at her kitchen table Friday. "It was just constant."
Gabriel began having seizures.
"It was like he was just staring off into space and you couldn't get
his attention," Chaparro said. The spells typically lasted three to four
minutes, she said.
Gabriel's doctor could find no cause for the seizures and said mold
exposure was a possible explanation, his mother said.
An inspection in February revealed heavy mold growth, according to the
At various times when they expressed concern about the mold and its
health effects, the Chaparros allege, they were told "mold grows anywhere"
and "mold can't cause seizures."
In April, at the Chaparros' insistence, the family was temporarily
moved to a Navy guest house while their home was repaired.
Gabriel has been seizure-free since then, his mother said. But the
seizures delayed his speech development. He is in speech therapy now.
On May 1, Natasha Chaparro was allowed back into the house to retrieve
some clothing for her husband, who was returning from an overseas
deployment. The place was a mess, there was a terrible odor, and all the
family's personal belongings were uncovered, according to the lawsuit. She
had to leave the unit and vomit.
She remains ill to this day, with serious allergic reactions,
respiratory problems and other illnesses, according to the lawsuit.
Water-damaged buildings such as the Chaparros' home are now recognized
by multiple government and medical authorities as a public-health problem,
contributing to tens of thousands of illnesses and billions of dollars in
medical costs, according to the lawsuit.
Despite knowing that mold exposure is a health hazard, the Chaparros
allege, Lincoln has a policy of avoiding the issue, including telling
employees never to mention the word "mold" to tenants, performing repairs
as cheaply as possible, intimidating tenants who complain, and having
independent mold inspectors arrested on bogus trespassing charges.
Natasha Chaparro said dealing with the mold issues complicated her
already stressful life as a military spouse. Her husband has been deployed
much of the time since they moved into the Lincoln home.
"He's off fighting for his country, and I don't understand why it
should be so hard to see that those of us left behind are taken care of,"
David Bailey, the Richmond attorney who represents the Chaparros and
the other families suing Lincoln, said the Chaparros' story is typical. He
said he expects to file more lawsuits.
Lincoln has not yet responded to the Chaparros' allegations in court.
Connie Bertram, a Washington attorney who represents the company, said "a
very minimal amount" of mold was found in the house and was immediately
"Lincoln was very responsive to the Chaparros' limited concerns," she
said. "They actually had very few maintenance problems."