Posted: 6:51 p.m. Thursday, March 6, 2014

Family says bat infestation forced them from home

By Liz Artz

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. —

A Gwinnett County family says they are prepared to sue if that’s what it takes to be reimbursed for medical expenses, several months’ rent, a security deposit and possessions that remain inside their bat-infested rental property.
 
Video obtained by Channel 2’s Liz Artz from Joel Johnson’s attorney is pretty dramatic. It shows the infestation of bats living in the walls, fireplace and underneath their Lawrenceville rental home.
 
Johnson told Artz he can’t understand why anyone would rent a house that is a hazard.
 
Johnson rented the house from Martin Del Mazo in July. By December the Gwinnett County Health Department had deemed the home a hazard and unlivable due to the bat infestation.
 
Johnson said his family underwent a series of rabies shots and could have lifelong medical problems.
 
Johnson said he, along with his children and fiancée, have been tested for histoplasmosis, a type of respiratory fungal infection.
 
While the family awaits the test results, they've hired attorney Tammy Holcomb. She says a trail of text messages shows the Johnsons have tried since November to get out of their lease and get reimbursed for money spent.
 
“We hope the owner will do the right thing and will make our clients whole again," Holcomb said.

Del Mazo agreed to talk with Artz, saying he is willing to give Johnson his security deposit, rent for a month and some moving expenses.
 
“I’m happy to pay for an extended stay hotel, but the Marriott, was that necessary?" Del Mazo said.
 
Del Mazo said Johnson will have to sue if he wants to be reimbursed the $65,000 they claim they have paid in medical expenses.
 
"I’m perfectly happy to pay whatever I’m legally obligated to pay," Del Mazo said.
 
Holcomb said if the family tests positive for histoplasmosis, it could constitute future legal damages.
 
Del Mazo said he was not aware of the bat problem before the family moved in.

While the Health Department recommends no one goes in the home until the problem is eliminated, Del Mazo says he will move the family’s belongings to the garage and they can pick them up from the garage.

Holcomb hopes they can settle with the insurance company and not in court.

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