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Federal Office Building Exposed Gov’t Employees To Black Mold

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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Federal employees were potentially exposed to black mold in an ill-maintained building leased by the government, a watchdog reported Friday.

The Public Building Service (PBS) – an agency within the General Services Administration (GSA) – leases the Kress Building on behalf of Customs and Border Protection, but didn’t make sure the lessor repaired significant maintenance issues, GSA’s inspector general reported. (RELATED: Federal Agencies Waste Tons Of Money On Unused Gov’t Property, GAO Report Shows)

“PBS has not enforced the terms of the full service lease at the Kress Building and may have exposed tenants to health risks,” the report said. “Specifically, we found that PBS did not hold the lessor accountable for maintenance and repair issues in a timely fashion. In addition, PBS failed to timely notify the tenants about the presence of black mold in a training room.”

Water intrusion caused a portion of the third floor’s ceiling to fall in August, 2015, which exposed black mold, but tenants weren’t notified until 33 days later. (RELATED: 10 Of The Worst Ways Uncle Sam Wasted Your Money In 2015)

“[D]uring this period, the tenants had access to the” room with exposed mold “because it was not fully contained or isolated,” the report said. “As a result, tenants may have been unnecessarily exposed to black mold.”

Customs and Border Protection logged 208 reported problems from 2015 to 2016, “some of which were repeated because the lessor” – Victor Properties LLC – “did not address them in a timely manner,” the report said. Issues included “water intrusion, termite infestations, poor ventilation, exterior deterioration, mold, non-working water fountains and unsatisfactory maintenance and janitorial practices.”

Tenants also sent similar complaints to the inspector general and “expressed concerns that the building is making them sick,” the report said.

PBS threatened the lessor that it would to stop paying rent, would “perform the necessary work, and deduct the cost of repairs from the rent” in September, 2014, the report said.

“However, PBS allowed months to pass without satisfactorily addressing the issues with the lessor,” it continued. Many problems mentioned in the 2014 letter still existed when the inspector general visited more than a year later, and others still weren’t addressed by December, 2016.

The watchdog saw issues including leaking HVAC systems, termite evidence, water intrusion problems, and even a paper plate stapled to the wall to hide a hole in the wall.

“We found no instances throughout the term of the lease where PBS withheld rent or performed any of the necessary maintenance or repair work, despite the lessor’s repeated failure to do so in a timely manner,” the report said.

GSA has leased the building since 1995. Its latest extension expires Nov. 3, 2018.

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