A building restoration business owner who held a vacate cleaning contract for Housing Tasmania properties claims widespread substandard insurance remediation works are leaving tenants at risk of serious illness.
Tim Wolstenholme, director of Penguin-based Clinical Restoration and Cleaning, had his contract terminated last week after a social media post in which he described restoration carried out by the insurance industry as "a joke".
He told The Examiner of one instance in which mould started to rapidly reappear in a Housing Tasmania house in Burnie just weeks after remediation works occurred, including it spreading to a young child's bedroom causing irreparable damage to furniture and further health concerns.
Mr Wolstenholme inspected the property after the mould started spreading again and found "improper handling of contaminated waste" was the cause.
His company had carried out the majority of vacate cleans and emergency response services in public housing properties in Northern Tasmania for the past 12 months as part of the contract.
Mr Wolstenholme said there was "a lack of care and responsibility" in the insurance restoration industry that was resulting in substandard repair and remediation works, including the painting over of tobacco-stained premises and mould-affected ceilings and wall studs.
MORE ON MOULD IN TASMANIAN HOUSES:
"Unfortunately this is not an uncommon problem, however it seems if you identify these issues you are forced out," he said.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg to what is occurring in state housing.
"I hate the fact people being left in these homes with no idea of the health risks that are around them."
'It's like no one really cares': mother desperate for answers
The mother who lives in the Housing Tasmania property in Burnie says the mould infestation was the likely cause of respiratory problems for her three-year-old daughter.
She had lived in the property for two years but was not made aware of a past leaking hot water system that had caused mould to spread behind walls in the kitchen and laundry.
Insurance restorers attended to carry out works, including removing the wall between the kitchen and laundry, but the adjoining child's bedroom was not waterproofed. There was also evidence that mould had been painted over.
The mould started to reappear soon after, and had become more widespread.
"We pulled the furniture out in my daughter's bedroom and found mould all over the back of it," the mother said.
"The furniture wasn't even 12 months old. It was a present for my daughter, but it was ruined.
"We couldn't kill the mould. I was going use a carpet cleaner but was told it'd be useless."
Her daughter suffered severe itchy eyes and a runny nose along with other sinus and respiratory issues. She was referred to a pediatrician after a GP found mould "could be" a factor.
The situation remained unresolved with Housing Tasmania after several months, with the mother using wire to tie doors together to prevent access to the affected room. The family was waiting for testing results on the mould.
She said every day that passed made their situation more uncertain.
"It's like no one really cares," the mother said.
"I don't feel comfortable in my own home with what has been happening.
"I never expected to be in a situation where this would happen to me."
'Contaminated waste was left behind'
Mr Wolstenholme was required to attend the premises to investigate, where he found evidence of mould beneath the property that had not been remediated.
"I was shown several photos of the works that were carried out by said contractors which allowed me to identify that due to improper handling of contaminated waste the remainder of the premises has been affected, most notably the child's bedroom," he said.
"I then went into the crawl space and stated in my report that little to no decontamination has occurred in this area and that contaminated waste was left behind.
"There are very obvious signs that work was not carried out to any form of acceptance and this has caused additional problems throughout the remainder of the house."
The lead maintenance contractor for public housing in Northern Tasmania, RTC Group, terminated Mr Wolstenholme's contract following his LinkedIn post which included images of the mould underneath the Burnie property.
Contracts manager John Jones said the company was within its rights to take this course of action.
"RTC has provision within operations to terminate contractors we are not happy with; this has subsequently happened," he said.
"The comments around the mould we do not deal with in our contract, this is dealt with by others."
Housing Tasmania: remediation works are audited
The Examiner took the allegations to Housing Tasmania and questioned whether the organisation had concerns about insurance restoration works on its properties and the impact of mould infestations.
A spokesman said there was an auditing process.
"Managing the issue of mould is generally a matter for tenants unless there is an underlying structural cause, these are addressed by the Housing Tasmania head contractor or insurance," he said.
"All remediation works are required to be audited for quality."
The spokesman said Housing Tasmania does not engage subcontractors and Mr Wolstenholme's case was a matter for the head contractor.
When a tenant makes a complaint about mould, Housing Tasmania's first response is for the tenant to open windows and improve ventilation.
Mould not included in Housing Tasmania maintenance reports
The Examiner requested data for maintenance requests relating to mould under right to information, but Housing Tasmania does not include mould as a "specific category" in its maintenance records.
Data for maintenance works in 2018-19 was provided for the North, including 1506 works carried out for planned maintenance, 396 to replace locks, 130 to replace smoke alarms and 117 to service taps.
Maintenance carried out on Housing Tasmania properties in the North in 2018-19:
The Burnie mother was the latest Housing Tasmania tenant to report dissatisfaction with the response to a mould infestation.
A Devonport family had been calling for an inspection of a hole in bathroom lino for six years before it was investigated. Workers found mould had spread behind the shower, lino and plaster board in several rooms, including a child's bedroom.
A child living in the house had respiratory problems.
A structural rebuild of the house was commissioned earlier this year.
In July, a Trevallyn family brought concerns about the continual reappearance of mould in their bathroom that could not be removed despite repeated cleaning attempts. Their bathroom was also repainted, only for the mould to return.
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