Apartment Living: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Living in New York City can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a nightmare. Leaving the soaring apartment rents for a moment, think about what you are breathing in and living with. You may be the cleanest person on this side of the Hudson, but your surroundings, and sometimes neighbors, can negatively impact your environment.

Whether you live in new construction, a landmarked brownstone, or a quaint pre-war walkup, ‘community living’ can easily compromise your health. This can include poor indoor air quality and mold growth where you can’t see it, as well as lead dust and asbestos particles in the air from neighboring repair work and renovation. The fact is your apartment may be harboring toxins.

Here are some of the top things to watch for, coming from someone who lived in a 100- year old building in Greenwich Village for over 15 years.

1. Mold from Leaks and Flooding – The Upstairs Neighbor Nightmare

I had a neighbor who would fall asleep in her bathtub, leaving the water running. I kid you not. On more than one occasion, water escaped into the hall. It also found its way into the walls and floors. Once, when we were away, we returned home to find a ceiling that had completely collapsed, bringing down the electrical wiring. Everything was covered with mold. The flood traveled through my apartment on the third floor, down to the first floor. Within a day, our building had a mold problem. Just like that!

Lesson learned: Whether caused by a burst pipe or small leak, mold from water damage can quickly affect an entire building. When that happens, mold testing is a must, then remediation, and then another test for mold to ensure the problem was properly removed and eradicated.

2. Lead and Asbestos from Improper Renovation Work – The Downstairs Neighbor Nightmare

My downstairs neighbor decided to renovate his apartment. He was kind enough to let us know that there would be noise from sanding, hammering, and demolition. What we were not counting on was the amount of debris that entered our apartment through the chimney and the incredible amount of dust that covered our apartment and almost three floors of the building. The dust also spread through the ventilation system and through open windows. On top of that, all the vibration from sanding and hammering caused some of the paint in our apartment to chip and peel.

To make matters worse, the construction on the first floor meant that everyone entering the building walked through the dust, and tracked it into the hallways and their apartments. We later discovered that that the debris contained lead and asbestos particles. I was pregnant at the time; my son wound up suffering from lead poisoning and now has permanent health issues.

3. Indoor Air Quality – The Next Door Neighbor Nightmare

When you live in NYC, you know that sometimes you will be exposed to bad odors that waft through the halls and walls. But when the person in the apartment next to you smokes, and then burns incense and candles to mask the smell, it can be downright unhealthy for the rest of us. Here’s why: everyday objects, like candles, air fresheners, deodorizers, and more contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) s that are toxins that cause poor indoor air quality, not to mention the chemicals contained in cigarette smoke.

The bottom line is this – if you live in New York City or any other urban area, have the air quality in your apartment tested to make sure you are living in a safe environment. You may need to test more than once, since nearby construction and tenant activity can cause changes in your living space – whether you are aware of them or not. Living in the city can be an amazing experience – as long as you protect yourself. Stay healthy, and live well!

Keep humidity levels less than 50% to prevent mold growth.

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