HousingLink Blog

Your Home's Role in Your Health & Safety

by Josh Dye | May 11, 2018

It can be challenging as a tenant to be upfront and honest when facing questionable living conditions. While you don’t want to step on your landlord’s toes, you also don’t want to compromise your own health and well-being in the process. Upon moving in, it’s important to be aware that your landlord is required to ensure the home is habitable and safe. This means the property should have adequate heat, electricity, water, and a sustainable foundation. Although you may think small problems are harmless, simple issues like damaged walls and minor leaks can potentially lead to long-term health problems.

The Importance of a Strong Foundation
Your landlord is required to fix any exterior or structural issues because these damages are usually the beginning of an endless list of safety hazards. This means they should be taking preventative measures, such as replacing weathered roof materials and faulty gutters to protecting the property from deteriorating over time. Common signs of structural damage include difficulty opening or shutting doors and windows, cracks or bulges in the walls, broken floor tiles or concrete, and standing water. Poor property maintenance is not only dangerous for tenants during harsh weather conditions, but can also lead to mold growth and exposure to environmental toxins.

Health Risks Resulting From Poor Maintenance
Homeowners should disclose any history of mold associated with the property and make a conscious effort to control the issue. Although there could be many sources behind mold growth, a weak structure is certainly a factor worth considering. This issue can be attributed to leaking pipes, poorly sealed windows, and damaged roof materials, which all require a landlord’s attention. You can assume your home contains mold if you spot discolored stains or come across a musty odor. Although not all mold is considered dangerous, toxic mold can release airborne spores triggering asthma symptoms and allergic reactions for tenants.

Radon is a prime example of a natural gas that can seep into our homes virtually undetected. In most cases, homeowners will hire a professional to inspect radon levels, but if your home has structural damage this gas can accumulate over time, so it should be tested for regularly. This includes cracks and openings in the walls or foundation, which should have been repaired by your landlord prior to moving in. If your rental property shows signs of weathering and is located in an area saturated with uranium rock and soil, consider purchasing your own at-home testing kit. If a test indicates high levels indoors, the property could be considered uninhabitable as radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer today.

If your home was built as recently as 1980 and shows visible signs of aging, you could be at an increased risk of asbestos exposure. Although it’s difficult to identify asbestos just by looking at the material, if you are concerned you should contact your landlord who can have the property professionally inspected. Typical products that may contain the mineral include old vinyl floor tiles, HVAC ducts, roof shingles, concrete, insulation, and more. Vermiculite insulation is especially concerning as 70% of this product was mined from Libby, Montana, and contaminated with asbestos. This material is often found in attics and is predicted to lurk inside 1 million homes across America today. When materials containing asbestos are broken down the fibers enter the air and could be breathed in, eventually becoming lodged in the outer lining of the lungs, heart, or stomach.

Any amount of exposure is considered dangerous to humans, but products containing asbestos do not pose a threat until they have been damaged or begun to deteriorate. With Air Quality Awareness Week quickly approaching, we are taking strides to educate readers about how they can protect their lungs within their own homes, a place that should always be a source of comfort and security. We hope to encourage anyone at risk to educate themselves on their rights and how to handle a potential health hazard confidently.