Rental Properties Often Harbor Environmental Hazards: Here’s What Landlords Should Know
Most buildings, whether residential or commercial, may contain one or more environmental or health hazards, often hidden from view. Hazards such as mold, asbestos, lead, radon, and even pests can pose serious risks to tenants who occupy these spaces. To protect your tenants and properties, it’s smart to familiarize yourself with the local laws, rules or ordinances to which you are subject. The laws governing landlord and tenant obligations vary from state to state, locality to locality. The following, found in Local Law 55-2018 in New York City, will give you a good idea about what you need to do to avoid issues stemming from environmental hazards and pests.
Landlord Responsibilities (NYC)
- Every year, landlords should inspect units for indoor allergen hazards such as mold, and respond to any complaints received directly from tenants.
- Make sure vacant apartments are thoroughly cleaned and free of mold and pests before a new tenant moves in.
- Provide the What Tenants and Landlords Should Know About Indoor Allergens and Local Law 55 fact sheet and a Notice with each tenant’s lease that clearly states the property owner’s responsibilities to keep the building free of indoor allergens.
- A landlord has a responsibility to remediate mold in a tenant’s unit, just as they would with any other hazard. If the mold arises because of the tenant’s actions, however, the landlord may not be obligated to address it, and it may become the tenant’s responsibility. This would include things like accidentally overflowing bathtubs or trying to do plumbing work yourself.
- Owners of residential properties with 3 or more units are required to hire a New York State Department of Labor-licensed mold assessor, like RTK Environmental, to assess conditions whenever there are more than 10 square feet of mold. After the assessment, landlords are responsible for hiring a separate remediation contractor. These two contractors must be completely independent of each other, as doing both the testing and remediation on the same job is a violation of the 2016 New York State mold law and would be a clear conflict of interest. A licensed mold contractor must also comply with New York City Administrative Code section 24-154 and New York State Labor Law Article 32. There may be penalties to a property owner for failure to comply with New York City requirements.
- Safe work practices are required for mold removal, whether you hire a contractor or you do the work yourself or with your own staff. These practices include:
- Hire a NYS certified microbial investigator, like RTK, to test for mold before and after remediation to identify the problem and ensure it was properly remediated.
- Removing any standing water, and fix leaks or moisture conditions.
- Isolating the work area with plastic sheeting and covering egress pathways.
- Limiting the spread of dust. Use methods such as sealing off openings (e.g. doorways, ventilation ducts, etc.) and gently misting the molding area with soap and water before cleaning.
- Cleaning mold with soap or detergent and water. Dry the cleaned area completely. If these areas are not dried completely, mold will likely return.
- Removing and discarding materials that cannot be cleaned properly.
- Throwing away all cleaning-related waste in heavy-duty plastic bags.
- Cleaning any visible dust from the work area with wet mops or HEPA vacuums.
- Leaving the work area dry and visibly free from mold, dust, and debris.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires owners of buildings constructed before 1981 to place warning labels, train staff, and notify employees or outside contractors who are working in areas that might contain asbestos.
- To establish that there is no asbestos on your property, you must have a licensed inspector, like RTK, test for it. You have a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect tenants from asbestos as this material has been linked to an elevated risk of lung cancer and other health issues.
- If the landlord is planning a renovation or repair in a pre-1981 building that will disturb suspect asbestos containing material, they need to test for asbestos and remove it prior to any work being performed.
A federal regulation now requires landlords of “target housing” (most housing built before 1978) to disclose any known lead paint hazards to prospective tenants. New York City landlords and residents also must follow Local Law 31 to avoid costly fines and penalties. Here’s the breakdown of Local Law 31:
- X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) inspections are now required for all surfaces in every rental unit for “multiple dwelling” buildings built prior to 1960 (as well as for buildings built between 1960 and 1978 with known lead-based paint).
- XRF lead inspections must take place within 5 years of the effective date of the law (by August 9, 2025) or within one year if a child under the age of 6 resides in or moves into the unit.
- Inspections must be conducted by a third-party, EPA-certified lead inspector or risk assessor, independent of the owner or any firm hired to perform lead-based paint remediation.
- Home improvement contractors must show evidence that they are EPA-certified and follow RRP lead-based safety standards.
- On December 1, 2021, the definition of lead-based paint changed from paint that has a lead content measured at 1.0 mg/cm2 or greater as determined by laboratory analysis or by an instrument called an X-ray florescence analyzer (XRF) to be defined as paint that has a lead content measured at 0.5 mg/cm2 or greater as determined by laboratory analysis or an XRF instrument with an approved PCS and programmed at a testing action level of 0.5 mg/cm2.
- Federal regulations also require that prospective tenants be given a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pamphlet, Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home, about residential lead poisoning hazards.
The older the housing, the more likely it is that it contains lead paint, that can cause lead poisoning, especially when the paint is disturbed.
- Lead poisoning can occur from lead dust the size of a grain of sand (dust from lead paint can be released when a painted surface is disturbed). Lead poisoning can lead to serious, irreversible brain damage, neurological reproductive and behavioral issues, autism-like symptoms, and more.
- Test for lead to be sure you are protected.
No laws actually require landlords to identify radon or remove it from their property, despite radon’s association with lung cancer. Radon has been detected everywhere in the United States, so it is a hazard that should be on a landlord’s radar for testing.
- When radon is trapped in homes that have poor or inadequate insulation or ventilation, it can become a severe health hazard.
- In areas where there is rocky terrain, like the Northeast, there are substantial amounts of radon, caused by the high concentrations of uranium in the soil and rock.
In the end, the goal of both tenants and landlords is the same – to keep everyone healthy and protected. The best way to prevent further issues and potential contamination is to have the property tested for environmental toxins. This way, there is a clear path to what needs to be done to ensure everyone’s safety. And be sure to test after the remediation or abatement is complete to ensure the work was properly completed. Call RTK at 800.392.6468 to schedule an environmental inspection today.