02/20/2015 09:12 EST | Updated 04/22/2015 05:59 EDT

Mouldy Surrey rental suite blamed for Ismail Abdirahman's illness, inability to work

A 51-year-old Surrey man is seeking damages from a former landlord because, he says, the mould-ridden suite he was renting made him so sick, he could no longer speak or walk properly.

Ismail Abdirahman, who was forced to leave his job as a bus driver because he was so ill, says his health deteriorated rapidly after he moved into the suite.

"I had breathing problems. I noticed... the ceiling, it looked like the room [was] dirty but it wasn't dirt, it was mould. I had no idea what black mould was before."

His daughter, Qali Ahmed, was horrified to see her father so sick he could no longer work.

But her father's health continued to deteriorate.

"It developed into serious respiratory issues. He was breathing heavily and I noticed his walk was getting tilted and he wasn't walking straight," Ahmed told CBC News.

Abdirahman's doctor sent him to see a number of specialists, including a neurologist, but none were able to figure out what was causing his illness.

'It was coming through the walls'

So Ahmed decided to find out whether what was growing on the walls and ceiling of her father's bedroom had anything to do with his deteriorating health.

"It was coming through the ceilings, it was coming through the walls."

She contacted a company to conduct air quality tests, and was shocked when the the results from Mold and Bacteria Consulting Labs came back, showing her father's bedroom contained extremely high levels of black mould spores.

The company recorded 4892 spores per cubic metre of Stachybotrys, considered one of the most toxic kinds of black mould, and 79798 spores per cubic metre of Apergillus penicillum, which produces harmful mycotoxins.

The room next door only had 210 spores per cubic metre of Stachybotrys.

Karen Bartlett, a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC, told CBC News the mould count found in Abdirahman's bedroom is unusually high, and that breathing in those mycotoxins can make some people very sick, depending on how healthy their immune system is.

"When we inhale those substances, or mould spores, it creates an inflammatory response in our lungs and the inflammation can be disrupted in other ways throughout the body," Bartlett said.

'Completely contaminated'

The test results prompted Ahmed to take drastic action.

"I just got my dad out of there," she said. "We left everything in that bedroom and living room because it's completely contaminated."

They left behind a bedroom suite, living room furniture, a television and all her father's clothing. Family photos, luggage and other personal items were later destroyed, says Abdirahman, who is seeking compensation from the landlord.

He and his daughter will argue their case for compensation at a hearing at B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Branch next week.

They are seeking $22,000 to cover medical expenses, moving expenses, lost furniture and personal items contaminated by the mould.

Ahmed says she contacted the landlord a year earlier, to complain about the mould, and was told to clean it up with bleach.

Contacted by CBC News for comment, the landlord denied Ahmed had alerted them to the mould, and said the first they heard there was a problem was when Abdirahman moved out, without giving notice.

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