It took a small business owner years to save enough money for a down payment on her first home — but it took much less time for her to discover that she couldn’t live in it.
Karla Touet was “so excited” when she finally took possession of her house in September 2016, which was located in the Mill Woods neighbourhood in Edmonton. As a self-employed founder of a painting business, Touet had had trouble getting approved for a mortgage. But after years of hard work and persistence, she was finally able to secure a loan without a co-signer — and quickly hired an inspector, realtor, mortgage broker, and lawyer to guide her through the homebuying process.
The first home that she’d put an offer on failed a home inspection, but the second home — the house in Mill Woods — passed the test.
Everything seemed fine until this past June, when Touet saw an ant in her living room and took it outside. The next day, she saw three more, as well as a small pile of sawdust. After doing some research, Touet called an exterminator, who sprayed her house and identified the insects as carpenter ants. When Touet found more ants in her basement, the exterminator sprayed the house again and instructed Touet to wait two weeks before looking for any wet wood around the house — which is likely what had attracted the ants in the first place.
In July, Touet went searching. And what she found was a “massive” ant colony in her living room wall — as well as black mould.
A few days later, a remediation specialist Touet hired also found asbestos.
Touet’s exterminator has stopped returning her calls. A new exterminator gave her a quote of $700 for a procedure that would guarantee that the ants wouldn’t return this year, but told her that the procedure might have to be repeated for another two years. The remediation specialist gave Touet a quote of $6,000 that doesn’t include repairs, while general contractors quoted her costs that ranged between $15,000 and $30,000 to fix the infrastructural damage that the ants, water damage, mould, and asbestos had inflicted on her home.
When Touet called her insurance company, she was told that her policy didn’t cover mould or infestation. The company added that the water damage that had attracted the ants in the first place was a result of a leak that had occurred over many years, and had started before she bought her coverage.
Meanwhile, Touet’s inspector, Richard Anderson, told the CBC that he had not seen any red flags when he’d originally looked over the home.
“If there's no indication of damage, that's about the extent of my inspection,” he said. “I can't start pulling things apart or scouring through the walls.
“If you can't see it, you can't see it. We're not allowed to go in there and start probing.”
Anderson believes Touet’s best bet is to go after the previous homeowners, and find out whether they had tried to conceal any damage before selling the home. Another inspection of the home in early August found that the damage done by the carpenter ants occurred over a number of years.
In order to successfully sue the previous homeowner, however, Touet would have to prove that they had known about the damage and chosen not to tell her.
Right now, Touet doesn’t know if paying more fees to a lawyer would be the best use of her money. One lawyer she consulted with advised her to foreclose the home and file for bankruptcy.
She has started a GoFundMe page in an effort to cover some of her expenses.
“I am in my early 30s. I have a business. I haven't overspent, I don't live beyond my means, and I am being advised to file bankruptcy. It's so scary,” she said.
“It was sold to me as updated property with new windows, fresh paint, flagstone patio, newer kitchen and all these features to say this is a great home that's been upgraded. Never did I know I'd be walking into a lemon.”