A Cochrane couple who allege mould in their home contributed to the death of their daughter on New Year's Eve 2018 has filed a class action lawsuit against Calgary-based homebuilder Excel Homes.
Kandace and Shane Yakemchuk's 24-year-old daughter, Deja Fischer – who was diagnosed with asthma as a child – suffered a severe asthma attack on Dec. 5, 2018. She was rushed to the Foothills Medical Centre and put in a medically induced coma.
"In the ambulance, I knew, I knew she was gone. Even in the hospital, I knew," said Kandace. "People kept saying don't lose faith, miracles can happen and I knew. I always said that the 26 days we got in hospital was for other people to come and say goodbye."
The family was forced to make the heart-breaking decision to remove Deja from life support on Dec. 31, 2018.
Her parents say their daughter had suffered asthma attacks that would force her to go to the hospital either on her own or with assistance. It wasn't until moving into their new home that paramedics were called to rush Deja to hospital on five seperate occasions beginning in April 2018.
Deja was a daughter, a sister, a friend. Her parents remember her as a young woman who had a heart of gold and a smile that could light up anyone's day.
"She was gifted with people,” said Kandace. "She loved score-keeping. We have a picture of her and she's at ball and it's of the scoreboard and she wrote on it, 'my happy place.' "
On Nov. 6, 2019, Guardian Law Group LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Yakemchuks and any current or former homeowners or tenants of Excel-built homes in Heartland "who experienced basement mould and/or moisture issues."
Excel Homes addressed the issue via a statement to the Cochrane Eagle.
"We are surprised to have received a class action lawsuit as our company's reputation for post-sales support is strong. At this time, we are reviewing the claim and preparing our statement of defense. Our initial reaction in this claim appears to be without merit and the company will take every step to protect our position and reputation."
The Cochrane Eagle reviewed documents from the homeowner relating to the water and mould issue.
The Yakemchuks purchased their home in the community of Heartland in April 2017. The following February, they noticed water in their basement, and eventually discovered their insulation was wet. When the couple pulled out the insulation, Kandace said they found mould.
In July 2018, Excel Homes hired a company to test the house’s air quality. The test confirmed the presence of mould.
The class action lawsuit refers to a report indicating the level of mould in the house was 400 times higher than acceptable levels.
After that report, Excel moved the family to a hotel for a month while the company addressed the issue.
In the meantime, Deja was trying to manage her severe asthma.
Five days prior to Deja's final ambulance ride, Excel Homes sent the Yakemchuks a letter offering to reimburse them for $1,020 in ambulance fees on the condition they release Excel from damages.
The Yakemchuks never signed the form and said it felt like "hush money."
In March 2019, the Yakemchuks noticed water in their basement in the same areas as before as well as new locations. They believe this triggered Kandace's autoimmune disease and sent her into a downward spiral of resurfaced stress and emotion. She was admitted to the Foothills Medical Centre on March 11, 2019.
Kandace continued to ask Excel Homes for the air quality report after her daughter’s death. She said the company told her they couldn't give her the report because she didn't pay for it or have the authority. In the meantime, neighbours were issuing similar complaints about water in their homes to the company but unlike the Yakemchuks, these residents received air quality reports, explained Kandace.
"People started to take it more seriously, after Deja had passed," she said. "A lot of people are starting to just spray foam their basement on their own. They're paying the thousands of dollars to and we're not even sure it's the correct thing to do, but at the time, it (was) the only thing the homeowners (could) do (to) stop the water from coming in."
Excel Homes emailed homeowners a letter that read:
"DO NOT remove the poly and/or insulation from the walls in the basement – this allows hot air and humidity from the home to meet the cold foundation and doing so would cause an abnormal amount of frost build up and in turn an additional amount of moisture and condensation. It can also void your warranty."
Ashlie Bearnes, a homeowner in the Heartland community said when she received this letter she was "fearful." After hearing of the Yakemchuks’ issues, Bearnes inspected her basement and removed the insulation, where she found more than an inch of ice on her walls and water near the base, as well as a gap between the exterior wall and framing. She says she has not touched it since because she is worried she may void her warranty, but Excel Homes sent someone to address the issue with three cans of spray foam.
"He told me and my partner that we could buy sealant for the plastic and seal the bottom ourselves. Excel should have taken that upon themselves to do that properly and also when I asked if we should vacate the property while they spray foam, we were told 'no,' and I think that's not best practice either."
Laurie Drukier, a spokesperson for the Town of Cochrane, advised homeowners experiencing moisture or mould issues to work with their home builders. Drukier added homeowners can contact Alberta Municipal Affairs if their concerns are not addressed to their satisfaction.
A homeowner who asked not to be named told the Eagle they had water in their basement as well. They said Excel Homes attempted to fix the problem several times.
Eventually, the homeowners spray foamed the basement themselves at a cost of $3,400.
In the heap of it all, the Yakemchuks’ family dog, Bentley, a 10-year-old purebred Yorkshire Terrier, was experiencing lethargy, respiratory and digestive issues. He also began to have seizures. The Yakemchuks spent thousands of dollars on vet bills and on July 30, 2019, Bentley was diagnosed with dermatitis. The Yakemchuk's were told a possible cause of the diagnosis was mould exposure.
The Yakemchuks said neither Alberta New Home Warranty or Excel Homes have provided them with any theories as to what the root of the problem could be.
"In the last two years, there's never been anything concrete said about what is the issue, other than New Home Warranty saying condensation is normal. Well, I'm sorry but that's not normal," explained Shane Yakemchuk. "Having water come down, whether our basement was finished or not, we'd be tearing out carpet and our drywall every year."
In June 2019, nearly a year after their air quality check the Yakemchuks received the report from the chief operating officer of Excel Homes, Dean Campbell.
The air quality report showed the house had Aspergillus and Penicillium spores with a mould count of 408,000 spores per metre in the basement and 20,500 spores per metre on the main level. The acceptable count of mould spores is 1,000 spores per metre.
"After we got that report, I was like, 'Holy – they knew what they were doing, like they should have shared that immediately with us.’ They said it was only slightly elevated," Kandace said.
This January, the Yakemchuks found water in their basement again.
"Shane put in an email to them 11 days ago. New Home Warranty hasn't responded back to us and neither has Excel," said Kandace.
"It's hard because the last time we had with Day (Deja) is in this home, so with everything that's going on, how do you walk away from the memories of her and then possibly put a family in the same position," said a tearful Kandace.
"Your biggest investment in life is your home and that's our biggest thing too is making sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," echoed Shane.