Family continues lawsuit against State Rep. candidate over mold in Gilbert home

Her family says some preexisting black mold in Vanessa Delgado's Gilbert home led to respiratory issues that made her unable to fight COVID-19.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 7:56 PM MST
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GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - It’s been over six months since Vanessa Delgado lost her battle with COVID-19. The Valley native and mother of two was just 41 years old when she passed. Her family says some preexisting black mold in Vanessa’s Gilbert home led to respiratory issues that made her unable to fight COVID-19.

In Arizona, sellers and their realtors are legally obligated to disclose any important facts about a property that might negatively affect the home’s value. Delgado’s family and their attorney say Chandler realtor and state representative candidate Liz Harris did not do this. As a result, they say Vanessa is no longer alive.

“It was a perfect location for her to be,” Vanessa’s mother, Lorrie Tegethoff, said.

The excitement. That’s what Tegethoff remembers most about her daughter buying her Gilbert home in June 2020. In the span of just a month, the excitement turned to pain. “We watched her deteriorate,” Tegethoff added. “Just having problems breathing, going up and down the stairs. That’s not my daughter.”

As a dance teacher at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School, Delgado noticed her breathing problems right away. Shortly after moving into her new home, she started speaking with Renae and Michael Willems, the couple who previously rented the house, about any issues they had experienced.

“I told Mike I said, we’ve got a mold issue!” Renae said. “And I noticed that the piece of wood underneath the sink was squishy.”

When the Willems reached out about the mold issues, they told Delgado that the sellers of the house, Jeff and Melissa Barnum, instructed the repairman to cover up the moldy areas. “He put another piece over it, and painted over it,” Renae said. “And that was their quote on quote fix.”

A look at the seller’s disclosure statement put forth by Liz Harris Realty LLC shows that Jeff and Melissa Barnum checked the box that said “No” for being aware of any past or present mold growth on the property.

That’s something that Delgado family attorney Samuel Doncaster says Liz Harris is responsible for. “She had a duty to disclose that in writing, and she didn’t do it,” Doncaster said. “And instead, she helped participate in the cover-up. Liz Harris lied, and Vanessa Delgado died.”

Harris’ attorney Steven Malach says Harris never knew about the mold until Delgado brought it up after she moved into the house. “My client categorically denies knowing about any mold up to and including the time of the closing of the property,” Malach said.

As Delgado’s family continues their lawsuit against Harris, the home is a reminder that while she isn’t here physically, she’s here in spirit. “It’s a sadness feeling,” Tegethoff said. “But at the same time, I feel her arms around me while I’m in here.”