Rental Properties Often Harbor Environmental Hazards: Here’s What Tenants 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 health and property, it’s smart to familiarize yourself with the legal responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. Although landlords are responsible for a majority of environmental issues in rentals, tenants have responsibilities, too.
Tenants also play a role in preventing mold and indoor allergens, and can be held responsible for environmental hazards caused by their negligence. Tenants should heed the following advice:
- Tell the landlord about any mold or unusual odors you’ve observed in the unit before you move in, and ask the landlord to fix the problem prior to your moving in. If you are already occupying the space, you should promptly tell your landlord about any mold that you find or conditions that are likely to cause mold.
- Keep homes clean and dry.
- Report any plumbing issues or leaks immediately, as mold can begin to grow within 24 – 48 hours.
Indoor Air Quality, VOCs & Radon
- Avoid using pesticides and chemicals with strong odors because they contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which cause poor indoor air quality and health issues.
- Do not manufacture, store, dispose of, transport, or use hazardous substances on the premises.
- Have radon and carbon monoxide detectors (landlord responsibility) installed in your home to catch any potential issues early.
- You can hire a professional, like RTK, to test for radon and determine whether it makes your home unhealthy.
- You can usually see suspect asbestos. Pipe insulation, 9×9 tiles, and popcorn ceilings are common areas that you may find asbestos. If asbestos has been damaged and become airborne, the only way to know is to have an air test. If the result is positive, you may have the right to withhold rent or move out before the lease ends without paying future rent if the landlord does not remedy the problem.
- Sometimes tenants need to move out temporarily if they cannot adequately protect themselves from asbestos during renovations or repairs. The landlord should cover the costs of your temporary housing if you move out.
- Unless you test for lead, you can’t be absolutely sure whether your rental home contains lead paint or lead dust unless it is tested. You should ask the landlord if the paint has ever been tested for lead. If it has, ask to see the results.
- If you have a child under the age of 6, you must notify your landlord, as different rules apply.
- In New York City, 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.
- Before hiring a home improvement contractor, they must show evidence that they are EPA-certified and follow lead-based safety standards.
- Inspections must be conducted by an EPA-certified lead inspector or risk assessor not associated with the owner or any firm hired to perform lead-based paint remediation.
- Place food in sealed containers, keep counters and sinks clean, and get rid of clutter such as newspapers and paper bags to prevent pests.
- Use garbage cans with tight-fitting lids to prevent pests from taking up residence.
- Take garbage and recycling out every day, and tie up garbage bags before removing them from your apartment.
Be aware that the tenant is liable if an environmental hazard violation is caused by their own willful act, assistance or negligence, or that of any member of their family, household, or a guest.
In the end, the goal of both tenants and landlords is the same – to keep everyone healthy. The best way to prevent future 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 or click here.
To learn more about landlord responsibilities, click here.