Asbestos and Other Environmental Hazards in Rental Properties

In many older buildings there may be the presence of asbestos that was used in building materials. In some jurisdictions, landlords are required to disclose whether asbestos may be present and the effects of prolonged exposure.

It is still a good idea to distribute the disclosure information to tenants either before or during the lease signing to protect you from legal actions down the road in case a tenant claims they were exposed to asbestos and has suffered health injuries. 

 

Other Hazards 

Lead

Prior to 1978, lead may have been used in paint. It is harmful to small children and pets that might eat the paint chips. A law was enacted for owners and sellers to disclose that there may be lead paint present in buildings constructed prior to 1978. If you own a building that was built prior to 1978, you should give your tenant the federal government pamphlet entitled Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home, and an informational disclosure form about lead-based paints. There are some exceptions to this federal requirement, including commercial rentals, zero-bedroom efficiency apartments, and rental units that have been certified as lead-free by a qualified lead abatement inspector. For further information on this requirement, contact the national Lead Information Center Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD or check your state laws. Some states do not require lead paint disclosures on leases.

Radon

Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that has been found in homes throughout the United States. It comes from a natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon enters the home building through the ground to the air above and into your home or building through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water.  The radon can get trapped inside. Any home or building can have a radon problem.  It is estimated that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States have elevated radon levels (4 pCi/L or more).  Radon risk can cause lung cancer especially if you smoke. The general recommendation from the EPA and surgeon general is that all homes or buildings below the third floor should be tested for radon. Although the landlord is not required to test for it, if you suspect that the property may be in an area that is more prone to radon gas, or you are just uncomfortable about it, then ask if the landlord would pay for the testing or whether you can pay for it yourself. Generally, buyers of properties will be more apt to test for radon than tenants.  It is a good idea to be aware of the information. If you are a landlord you should provide the tenant with radon information just to protect yourself against future lawsuits.      

Carbon Monoxide

You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide. High levels of it can kill you in minutes. Thousands of people die every year from improperly used fuel burning appliances or idling cars. It is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors can be purchased which will alert you if there are high levels of carbon monoxide in the air. However, they are not 100% reliable.  To be safe, there are some things that you should not do.

DON’T idle the car in a garage even if the garage door to the outside is open because fumes can still get in your home quickly.

DON’T use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.

DON’T use a charcoal grill indoors.

DON'T sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.

DON’T use any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.

DON’T ignore symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

Mold

Moisture causes mold.  Mold should be cleaned up immediately and the leak causing the water problem repaired right away within 24-48 hrs to prevent mold growth.

Mold produces spores that may begin growing indoors. Mold has a potential to cause health problems such as allergic reactions, hay fever, runny nose, red eyes and skin rash. Some molds are potentially toxic. As a landlord it is best to give a mold disclosure to your tenant to avoid any liability. Some states or cities legally require landlords and sellers to give their potential buyers or tenants a mold disclosure and allow for testing. Landlords are legally obligated to fix any mold problems as it is a health hazard.  Sellers do not have to fix the problems, but they do legally have to disclose them.   

Bedbugs

If you are a tenant and find bedbugs, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss your respective obligations, and to agree on a plan to get rid of the infestation. Generally, landlords are legally required to contract with a licensed pest control operator. Request a copy of the pest control contract from the pest operator. It should include the methods and insecticides to be used by the pest control operator, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager as well as by the tenants.

Because bed bugs and other pests may spread through cracks and holes in the walls, ceilings and floors, it is wise to inspect adjoining apartments on the same floor as well as those directly above and below. Landlords and property owners have specific legal obligations to provide safe and habitable accommodations for tenants. Certain infestations, including bed bugs, may constitute an unacceptable condition. Tenants have an obligation to cooperate with owners and landlords. This includes preparing the apartment so that the pest control operator can easily inspect the rooms and treat if necessary. Contact your state or municipal health agency or housing authority for more information or to make a complaint. 

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