How can I test for asbestos, mold and mildew?

October 24, 2013 16:45 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

Are there government labs where a person can bring a sample to have it tested for asbestos, mildew and mold?

Consumer Ed says: 

No, but various government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have specific recommendations for how and whether to test samples for asbestos, mildew, and mold.

Asbestos

If you would like to test for asbestos, the EPA recommends using an accredited laboratory in your area. After Congress enacted the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986, the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed a voluntary accreditation program for two types of laboratory testing:  the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) Test Method, a test to determine the asbestos content in materials; and the Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) Test Method, for determining the presence and amount of asbestos in air samples.  To find an accredited lab in Georgia, visit http://ts.nist.gov/standards/scopes/plmtm.htm (PLM Test Method) and http://ts.nist.gov/standards/scopes/temtm.htm (TEM Test Method).  For more information about asbestos, visit http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos.

If you would like to talk with a government official about your potential asbestos problem, you should contact Georgia’s state asbestos consultant, Mindy Crean, by calling (404) 363-7043 or by e-mailing her at mindy.crean@dnr.state.ga.us.

Mold and Mildew

The CDC generally discourages people from testing any mold found in their home.  If mold is touched or smelled, there’s a potential health risk; therefore, if you believe you have mold, no matter what type, you should arrange for its removal.  Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.  If you do decide to pay for environmental sampling for molds, before the work starts, you should ask the consultants who will do the work to establish criteria for interpreting the test results.  The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area, or without considering the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.

For more information, you can go to the CDC’s website, or to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website:  www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.html.  To locate a reliable mold testing/remediation company, you can visit the Better Business Bureau’s site at www.bbb.org.

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Can a mortgage company ask your neighbors about you if your payment is late?

February 8, 2013 00:52 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

Can a mortgage company call your neighbors when you are late on your payment and ask questions about you?      

Consumer Ed says: 

It depends on what you mean by “mortgage company”—whether that company that is your mortgage lender, your loan servicer, or both.  Your mortgage lender is the company that actually loaned you the money to purchase your home; your loan servicer is the company that handles the day-to-day aspects of your loans following the original disbursement.  Your mortgage lender and loan servicer can be the same company.  If you do not know who your loan servicer is you can check this on your monthly billing statement. Or you can call the MERS Servicer Identification System at 888-679-6377, or visit the MERS website at www.mersinc.org/information-for-homeowners/my-mortgage-info.

If your mortgage company is your loan servicer, but not your mortgage lender, these phone calls to your neighbors are regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).   Under the FDCPA, it is legal for a third-party debt collector (such as a loan servicer) to call your neighbors, provided the content of the conversation is limited to three inquiries—your home address, your home phone number, and where you work.  All other inquiries are illegal.  It is also illegal for a third-party loan servicer, in making such inquiries, to disclose the fact that you are late on your payments or any other confidential information.

If your mortgage company is both your loan servicer and your mortgage lender, the restrictions set out in the FDCPA will not apply.  This is because technically the mortgage company is your creditor, rather than a “third-party” debt collector. 

However, there are other regulations recently put into place by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), the federal agency charged with oversight of all financial institutions, which apply to communications between covered financial entities and third parties.  Under the new CFPB regulations tighter rules will apply. Thus, regardless of whether the company was your mortgage lender or your loan servicer, if the company and the communication it had with your neighbor falls within CFPB regulations, then the company is required to give you notice and an opportunity to opt-out of its third-party disclosure procedures before releasing information about you to your neighbors or other unaffiliated third parties.   

You can learn more about these new federal regulations by visiting the CFPB’s web site at www.consumerfinance.gov/regulations.  If you believe your mortgage company and/or loan servicing company have disclosed protected information about you in a way that violates the law, you can to file a complaint with the CFPB at https://help.consumerfinance.gov/app/mortgage/ask.

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Does maintaining a neglected property give me ownership rights?

July 10, 2012 01:35 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

There’s an empty lot next to our house. The owner doesn’t maintain it, and we end up trimming the vines and hedges that would otherwise grow over our fence.  If we continue to maintain that property, will we eventually own it?

Consumer Ed says: 

You’re thinking of adverse possession—and no, you won’t gain ownership to your neighbor’s property simply by maintaining the hedges and vines that come onto your property.  Generally, when an adjacent neighbor fails to maintain her property, it’s a good idea to talk with her first, or send her a written note asking if she could please address the out-of-control vegetation.  If she isn’t willing to do so, then it’s best to file a complaint with your city or county authorities.  Many cities and counties have ordinances requiring property maintenance.  To determine if your local government authority has such a requirement, visit its official website; if there’s no official website, or if you can’t find the ordinances there, you can go to www.municode.com, select your state of residence, then search by city or county.  If your neighbor is violating any of the local property maintenance laws, your filing a complaint could result in her receiving a violation notice requiring her to comply with those laws or face a fine.

That being said, there are circumstances where you may eventually be able to gain legal ownership to property through adverse possession.  You should consult with a lawyer to get a better understanding of these circumstances.  Generally, however, in Georgia, you can acquire property through adverse possession only if all the following criteria are satisfied:  you actually possess the property (i.e., live on it or otherwise show that you’re claiming it); your possession of the property is “open and notorious” (meaning you don’t make any attempt to hide your possession from either the owner or the public at large, and the owner doesn’t dispute your claim or make any attempt to interrupt your possession); your possession of the property is exclusive (no one else is occupying or otherwise staking claim to the property); you possess the property without interruption for the entire period of time required by state law; and your possession is accompanied by a claim of right (which simply means you’ve actually claimed the property as your own).  In Georgia, ownership of adversely possessed property can be gained if you comply with all the preceding requirements for 20 years, or seven years if the property is possessed under color of title.  Color of title simply means that a person has a reasonable belief that s/he has an actual right to possess the property.

These requirements are in place to protect the actual property owner, so that s/he will have adequate notice of a potential adverse possession.  Based on the information you provided, your circumstances would not support any ownership claims to your neighbor’s property.

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