NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Veteran claims her military housing had mold

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Posted at 7:56 AM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 13:34:57-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — For Victoria Phipps, a career in the military wasn't just a calling. It was a family affair.

"My dad's in the Army. He's a Vietnam veteran," Phipps said. "That just sparked my interest.”

After graduating from college, she decided it was time to serve her country.

Victoria would eventually spend nine years in the Army.

"I spent five years as a commanding officer, and then I medically retired out of the army after that," Phipps said.

Victoria’s lawyers say her separation was due to medical issues.

After retiring, Victoria ended up in Oceanside. She says as a veteran, she was able to get housing through the government contractor Lincoln Military Housing.

Victoria says about a month in, that's around March 2020, things with her health started to seem off.

"The first doctor's appointment I had with the VA, I remember telling her about a really bad earache and neck pain that I really couldn't place," Phipps said.

Victoria says despite frequent doctor's appointments her health kept getting worse.

A few months later in November 2020, she says she finally got some answers.

According to a lawsuit she filed against Camp Pendleton & Quantico Housing, LLC and LPC Pendleton Quantico PM LP, subsidiaries or affiliated companies of Lincoln Military Housing, Phipps was exposed to mold. She's suing for negligence, emotional distress, and wrongful eviction and several other claims. The lawsuit asks for money for medical costs, loss of earning capacity and attorney's fees among other things.

The lawsuit claims on Nov. 2, 2020, "Lincoln Military Housing sent a pest control company to follow up with a rodent problem plaintiff (Phipps) had complained of." The lawsuit goes on to say, "Gerry (the pest control representative) pulled the stove on the leased property out from the wall and saw severe mold and water damage on the cabinet and floor near the stove."

According to the lawsuit, the next day, representatives from Lincoln visited the property and inspected various parts. It claims later that day, a maintenance person came to the property to make repairs. The lawsuit says, "during the visit Jess (the maintenance worker) used a tool to measure the moisture on the cabinet and floor where the mold was found. Jess told Plaintiff the reading was very high, and the cause was a previous leak in the apartment. The lawsuit goes on to allege, "Jess also noted severe rusting on the back of the stove near the cabinet, indicating a moisture leak and problem. Jess represented to Plaintiff that the rust on the back of the stove started developing prior to Plaintiff moving on the property, given the size and scope of the rust issue. Jess told the Plaintiff there was a big leak that occurred at the apartment before the Plaintiff moved in."

The lawsuit says shortly after, Lincoln told Phipps remediation would occur and she'd be placed in temporary housing.

The lawsuit claims a professional mold testing company noted the leased space "contained unacceptable spore count levels and types and visible mold. Paradise Environmental indicated high spore count levels and visible mold in their report and further opined that remediation would be necessary to fix the issue."

"There was some kind of leak with the property that shared a wall with Ms. Phipps’ property and this leak caused a significant water issue in the shared wall and build-up and development of black mold," said Phipps's attorney Christian Clark.

According to the lawsuit, Phipps suffered damage to her respiratory system, experienced pain and anxiety, and incurred medical expenses.

Clark says his client struggled to work and ended up with no job and no place to live.

"The emotional distress, the pain and suffering that you can imagine someone will have when their life is turned upside down in this way," Clark said.

A spokesperson for Lincoln Military Housing told ABC 10News due to privacy and pending litigation, they can't go into specifics regarding the circumstances of individual residents.

In a statement, a spokesperson wrote, "LMH is fully committed to ensuring our residents live in a safe and healthy environment every day, and that our communities provide a safe and comfortable living experience for all of our residents. We have industry-leading water intrusion and mold management practices and protocols in place. We treat all reports of water intrusion or mold as an emergency request, and we thoroughly investigate all resident concerns, including those related to water intrusion or mold, to ensure that they are immediately and appropriately addressed. We are committed to putting our families first. LMH and our military service partners have multiple avenues for residents to raise concerns, either through our three-step dispute resolution process, our executive hotline, or via the military services' resident advocate program. We work diligently and collaboratively to resolve all issues to the satisfaction of our residents and will continue to do so, and we regret that any resident feels that they must turn to litigation as a recourse."

In court filings, Lincoln Military Housing denied the allegations and explained how they relocated Phipps to a temporary housing unit.

They've also fought back, filing their own lawsuit against Phipps, claiming in part she intentionally misrepresented to employees, as well as tenants at the location she was being "kicked out of base housing," and the leased property was "contaminated with black mold." In court documents, they called her behavior “reprehensible and despicable” – claiming that she did damage to their reputation in the community and at Camp Pendleton.

Phipps’ attorneys say it's not true and pointed to what they call a pattern of mold problems.

Their lawsuit claims even the temporary housing unit had mold.

"We're seeing mold all over properties, right," said Phipps’ attorney Christian Clark. "Properties all throughout California. We're seeing cases outside of California throughout the U.S."

In May, Team 10 reported on several lawsuits in the San Diego area that claim microbial spores or mold in military housing that's run by Lincoln, one of its subsidiaries or affiliated companies.

In those lawsuits, several families claim they got sick living in Lincoln properties.

"The problem is they think they are immune," said Phipps’ attorney Lenden Webb said. The problem is they are looking at this kind of housing worldwide as an opportunistic way to make money, and they are monetizing what they are inheriting from the government and government housing."

Phipps says wants to create awareness about what she and others have gone through.

"It's disgusting," she said. "I feel as a former service member, but as a veteran, I feel that this company is taking advantage of us, and that's hurtful, right."

Phipps sent a letter to members of Congress detailing her experience and asking for policy changes to help prevent mold exposure in military housing.

A spokesperson for Congressman Mike Levin's office said they did receive her letter.

We do want to note in lawsuits and statements the company is referred to as Lincoln Military Housing. The company’s website now says its name is Liberty Military Housing.