Cleaning & Restoration Breaking News

Mold removal industry targeted for regulation

TALLAHASSEE (St. Petersburg Times), April 22 - Florida's mold inspection and removal businesses would face state regulation for the first time under proposals state lawmakers say are aimed at protecting consumers from unscrupulous or fly-by-night companies.

The plan, heard for the first time on the Senate floor Wednesday, would require mold inspectors and those who remove and repair mold damage to be licensed by the state. The certification would require proof of training in the field, similar to what is now required of asbestos- or lead paint-removers. The state also would have the power to strip licenses from companies in cases of fraud and misconduct.

In addition, mold inspectors would be prohibited from performing mold repairs or removal on properties they inspected, a prohibition lawmakers hope will prevent scams.

"I'm totally for it," said Jef Braden, owner of A-Advanced Environmental Inc., a 17-year-old St. Petersburg company that was the first in Florida to acquire a "mold-sniffing" dog, a Bizla Hungarian pointer. "You see people getting into it that don't understand it, the science behind cleaning and decontaminating."

But the plan, which has the strong backing of industry, including giant Service Master and the Indoor Air Quality Association, is opposed by one group that could be strong enough to keep it from becoming law this year.

The Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers opposes both bills because they include provisions that would make it harder for consumers to sue licensed mold inspectors and remediators.

Senate sponsor Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, stripped some of the contested language from his bill Wednesday on the Senate floor. But the plan still must be heard in the House, where sponsor Rep. Carl Domino, R-Palm Beach Gardens, is seeking to get it on the House calendar for the floor.

How much consumers have been duped by unqualified mold inspectors or removers is unclear. Lawmakers say they've heard from constituents. The state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation says it has received complaints among the 1,000 calls it gets each month on construction issues.

"It's enough that we took notice, but since we don't regulate it, I can't go into our computer system and tell you how many," said DBPR spokeswoman Meg Shannon.

The proposed legislation, if approved, would be the first in Florida related specifically to mold infestations, an issue that has spawned a high-growth industry. In recent years reports have attributed some individuals' health problems to indoor mold.

Indoor mold has prompted a whole new issue for the insurance industry, where claims have risen significantly since 2001, when a Texas jury awarded $32-million in property damages to a homeowner.

But the proposals working their way through the House and Senate are far less ambitious than the ideas first floated in a December 2003 Senate staff report and a special House committee. Both groups suggested that lawmakers consider amending the state's insurance laws to dictate exactly when insurance companies would be required to cover mold infestations. Currently, that is determined by state insurance regulators.

"The decision was just not to try to tackle that this session," Bennett said.

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