Montreal

End of nightmare in sight for homeowners dealing with invasive dry rot fungus

A couple who lost their home because of an invasive fungus that eats building foundations welcomes the Quebec government's commitment to study dry rot and compensate some owners.

Government of Quebec creates $5.6M program to study 'building cancer' mushroom, compensate owners

Maxime Boivin and Marie-Hélène Cauchon fell in love with this landscape and their dream home in Saint-Marcellin, Que., before they discovered the house was infested by dry rot fungus. (Submitted by Marie-Hélène Cauchon)

Marie-Hélène Cauchon was pregnant when she first realized the house she and her husband Maxime Boivin had fallen in love with was not the dream home they were hoping for.

The couple started doing renovations in 2014 to make room for their first child.

They soon found traces of fungus in the basement of the small home in Saint-Marcellin, near Rimouski, Que.

"It was like bubble bath that was all over the place," Cauchon told CBC.

Several phone calls and online searches later, Cauchon and Boivin realized what the problem was.

Dry rot fungus had spread throughout the house's wooden structure, the mushroom slowly eating away at the building's foundations. Its Latin name is Serpula lacrymans, but contractors sometimes refer to it as "building cancer."

Cauchon said insurance companies and government officials offered next to no help, saying theirs was an isolated case.

But she said she was convinced there was a larger issue at hand.

This dry rot, a type of fungus, tends to spread and cause rapid wood decay, eventually destroying buildings. (Radio-Canada)

"We need to take action right now before it spreads all over Quebec or entire neighbourhoods in Montreal," Cauchon said.

Quebec allocates $5.6M for compensation, studies

Four years later, Cauchon is relieved to see the Quebec government address the issue and recognize the risk the fungus poses to homeowners across the province.

Last week's provincial budget includes a $5.6-million envelope to grapple with the problem of dry rot fungus, called mérule pleureuse in French.

The bulk of the money — $5 million — will be invested to create a government intervention program to be managed by the province's housing agency, la Société d'Habitation du Québec.

The province said it will distribute $300,000 this year to help homeowners with dry rot.

People struggling with problems linked to pyrrhotite, a material mixed in with concrete that can lead to cracks in foundations, can also apply for compensation under this fund.

Costly decontamination

Cauchon said it's hard to say how many homes are affected by dry rot, because people hesitate to go public and risk seeing the value of their home plummet.

A government study released in June 2017 wasn't able to determine how widespread the fungus is but had recommended putting in place the type of program the government is now setting up.
Marie-Hélène Cauchon and Maxime Boivin found the dry rot in their basements when they began renovations in 2014 while awaiting the birth of their first child. (Submitted by Marie-Hélène Cauchon)

Laval University will receive a $200,000 grant to study the fungus.

The Bureau de normalisation du Québec, which oversees the building standards in public institutions, will also receive $200,000 to develop a method to decontaminate infested buildings.

In the case of Cauchon and Boivin, demolition costs ended up being higher than the value of their home.

The couple is still paying a mortgage on the $60,000 building, after paying $92,000 to demolish it.

"We took the same protocol as asbestos," she said. That meant wrapping the debris in plastic bags and bringing it to a decontamination site, to avoid spreading the fungus to neighbouring homes.

The couple had to pay $92,000 to decontaminate their home, before it could be demolished. (Submitted by Marie-Hélène Cauchon)
 

On Tuesday, Housing Minister Lise Thériault announced a support group Cauchon and Boivin set up, Mérule Pleureuse Québec, will also get $45,000 annually for the next four years to continue its outreach and awareness program.

"We recognize the efforts the organization has made," Thériault said.

Cauchon said the money will allow the organization to hire a full-time employee to field the calls she receives every week from across Quebec, from Gatineau to the Magdalen Islands.

"We will be that link between the families and the government," she said.

Cauchon says she is happy to see concrete action being taken, but her own nightmare isn't yet behind her.

"We still have to pay for the other building that is gone. We're going to pay for that for the next 17 years," she said.

With files from Quebec AM

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