Nfld. & Labrador

Suspicious time to find black mould in St. John's heritage home, says advocate

The Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust says it's suspicious that a developer is now warning people about black mould in a historic home it wants to demolish.

Richmond Hill Cottage will face demolition if not sold in next year

The Richmond Hill Cottage, built around 1848, will be torn down if it doesn't find a buyer by May 2017. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Heritage advocates in St. John's are suspicious that a developer who wants to demolish a west end heritage home says the building is now full of black mould. 

Late last week, the developer posted signs on the front doors of Richmond Hill Cottage.

"Respirators must be worn at all times," the sign reads. "A 30 minute time constriction within this property has been stipulated by the environmental consultants."

(Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust)

Last month, the city signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the building's owner Wrightland Development Corporation that stipulated the developer has one year to look for a buyer before the home could be torn down.

Cory Thorne, vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust, told CBC News that the timing of the sign is raising eyebrows.

"When we saw this sign go up it was like, 'Okay. What else are you going to do next to try to discourage anyone from saving this property?" he said.

"I don't think the listing agent or the developer are working in order to help sell the property that they're trying to sell. I think they're doing their best to dissuade anybody from buying it."

Thorne said he doesn't doubt that there is black mould in the property, but thinks it's odd that this information has only just come to light. 

"I think the timing of it is a little suspicious. I don't want to say that they're lying or anything like that, but I think they've timed it in an interesting way in relationship to the attempt to sell this property," he said.

"Why didn't we know already that there was black mould, why is this a new issue all of a sudden?" 

The home's listing agent said the black mould was uncovered after a third party conducted an environmental assessment.

The agent, Paul Fowler, declined CBC's request for an interview.

Property no stranger to controversy

The two-storey wooden merchant manor was built around 1848, and has been no stranger to controversy in recent years. 

Councillor Dave Lane, who has been advocating for the home's survival, said news of black mould in the building will make it harder to sell.

"I think the sign doesn't really help sell the property," he said.

'I'm very optimistic that we can find somebody, hopefully in the next year.' - Councillor Dave Lane

"Obviously if there's a mould issue people need to be aware of it but I think it's something we need to address right away with the owner of the property."

But Lane said it's unfortunate the realtor didn't try and work with the city to come up with a better game plan. 

Dave Lane on Richmond Hill Cottage 0:52

"I feel like we're a little out of step with the realtor. We're trying to make the property more saleable, more appealing."

Despite the setback, Lane said he's optimistic the property will sell before the developer gets the go-ahead to demolish.

"There's definitely been at least one person who has walked through and has a viable interest in it," said Lane.

Thorne agreed, and said he thinks anyone with interest in a heritage home will know the problems they're likely to encounter.

Throne added that the black mould likely formed because the developer was not taking proper care of the home.