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Health department role in unsanitary or un-healthy rental apartments or offices:
This document discusses whether or not a tenant should call their local health department officials about a known or suspected health & safety concerns such as a an apartment or rental home where there is open sewage or a sewage backup, or concerning moldy rental apartment, home, or office.
We also discuss how building owners and managers can be expected to react to health department involvement, and when such a call is probably justified.
An easy-to-print PDF version of this article is here.
Should a Tenant Call the health department about an un-healthy or unsafe apartment?
In some egregious cases tenants have taken their health & safety concern complaint to the local
If there is a serious and obvious
problem with mold or other health concerns in a rental apartment the health department may condemn the property
and require the owners to act. In our opinion this is a rather drastic step though it may be appropriate in dire
circumstances. In our opinion you should:
Protect yourself and other building occupants from immediate life-safety hazards such as gas odors, fire, signs of building collapse or other such risks by leaving the building and advising others to leave. Notify emergency services such as your local fire, police, or emergency rescue services as appropriate.
For other hazards notify your building management both orally and in writing if you believe that there are unsafe or unhealthy conditions where you rent. Include a brief, accurate, complete description of the concern, the evidence, and include your documentation.
Document the conditions and concerns in writing and in media: Photographs, video recordings, sound recordings can all provide clear and compelling evidence that can help both in the diagnosis and response to building or building environment concerns.
"Recordings often figure in the city's housing disputes, ... tenants have caught on to the usefulness of the electronic devices in their pockets, even in cases with little physical evidence. Housing Court judges say tenants have been submitting videos of leaks and other bad conditions in their apartments in recent years..." - The New York Times, 19 October 2015, p. A-1 & A-20. see REFERENCES
Get help from local agencies: If for the other hazards named in step 2 above you cannot obtain a response from your building management it may be necessary to seek help from your local officials as we list next.
Sources of Help for Renters in Un-Healthy or Un-Safe Apartments or Homes
Local building department: your local building authority may offer inspection and enforcement services where building adequacy and safety are concerned.
Local (city, county, state, provincial) rental housing agency: some cities such as New York City, provide a City Housing Authority who may be able to help with health services, emergency housing, health services
Local emergency services: your fire department or 911 emergency services should be called if you believe that there is an immediate life-safety hazard at your building. Examples of such hazards include fire, evidence of imminent building collapse, sewer gas or gas leaks.
Watch out: methane or sewer gas leaks risk a dangerous even fatal explosion. Do not use a cell phone, press a doorbell, turn a light on or off, nor operate anything electrical where there is a gas odor, since a spark can ignite an explosion. If there is a gas leak at your building you should notify other occupants, leave the building, and call emergency services from a location well away from the gas odors.
Local health department in your city or county: usually offers health and safety advice and may provide health & safety enforcement services
Calling in local building authorities will also be likely to end any cooperation between landlord and tenant. If health officials agree that a serious health problem is present the tenant is likely to be required to move immediately.
If this becomes the case, the tenant may need to evaluate the condition of and possibly clean their belongings before moving in order to avoid importing a problem to their new home.
The more you know about proper procedures to find and clean up moldy buildings the better you can assure that your
situation is handled properly. The articles at these links might be helpful:
When is mold a problem in buildings? What should be done about it? Find expert field and lab testing, inspection, remediation advice, but ... avoid "fear of mold" and bogus advice which can both cost you and yet may not really address the problem effectively.
Case Histories: At our Mold Weblog MOLD CENTRAL: indoor air quality investigation case histories, we may post summaries of field and lab toxic or allergenic mold and other indoor air quality investigations. I omit private information. I describe observations, procedures, and findings helpful to readers who
are trying to remedy their own mold, allergenic, carbon monoxide, odor, or other indoor air and related health concerns
in their indoor environment.
Common Reader Comments & Questions about Moldy Rental Apartments or Homes
Question: do these mold test results for my apartment show a problem? Now what?
I have been sick from a mold related
illness since June of last year. I live in an apartment with my
husband and 21 year old son. All of us have respiratory problems and
I became violently ill because of my exposure and the amount of time
spent in my bedroom with the vent closed and my door shut.
landlord did have a test done and the company that did it put
everything in my bedroom under aspergillus/penicillium and the count
done on February 11th was 633 for our bedroom.
Since Aspergillus is
only supposed to be outside in the Spring, Summer and Fall, the man
told my husband that 150 was high a normal count usually is about 50.
Our bedroom started leaking soon after moving in and the walls which
are covered with paneling if you hit them you can here the plaster
falling. I went into the crawl space above our bedrooms and the wood
is rotted except for the beams. All of us have been running low grade
fevers for a long time.
My husband and I are disabled, my husband
with a back injury and I with Fibromyalgia.
I had mentioned something
to my landlord last spring about mold and how it was affecting my
The only time it leaked into our bedroom is when it was
a windy rain. But who knows how long it was leaking into the crawl
My landlord lied to me about having a new roof put on, the man
that just fixed the flashing around the chimney that was supposedly
causing the problem they just fixed and he said it was an old roof.
have never been in a place with mold before and did not realize the
dangers and when I became very ill had forgot about the mold. I ended
up in the hospital twice all of my tests came out negative. The
second time they did exploratory surgery and removed my gall bladder
and appendix. This is only part of what happened and it would take
pages to continue. We are currently looking for another place to
live, but where this is an old roof, I do not want anyone else getting
If I was an elderly person or someone with a compromised immune
system I would have died. I now have asthma in which I have never had
this before even when I have smoked for 40 years. I have never not
been able to breathe. I have been sleeping in the living room for
about a month now and my concentration is better and I do not get
This was also affecting my skin, where my skin would turn
red with bumps usually my face and scalp as these were exposed the
most. My husband is now getting little bumps on him on his torso and
legs because he is still sleeping up there and sleeps naked.
going to enclose the report from the other company and it does not
seem he did everything as their are leakage spots all on my ceiling
and they did try to cover some by nailing tiles on the other tiles. I
do not know what else to do and need advice or help. Could you please
help? - J.G.
Reply: Start by following your doctor's advice; mold counts without an inspection are confusing.
This case is far too important in health and secondarily in possible costs to you for someone to pretend to diagnose or for which to make specific advice for via email.
You should start with advice from your doctors about your health condition and the risks from possible mold exposure, and you should keep your landlord informed about what you are told.
Your physician should be the starting guide about what sorts of environmental contaminants are most likely to be a problem for your family members, with attention to those. Or she/he may refer you to a physician who specializes in environmental medicine if s/he agrees that your environment is a likely cause or contributor to the complaints you describe.
Your description of what sounds like a wet crawl space is a strong indicator that there is risk of a significant indoor mold problem in the building.
An expert impartial and in-depth inspection of the home for mold or other obvious hazards may be helpful. And in our
- in renters advice you'll see that we warn about moving: your items may need to be cleaned before bringing them into the new space so you don't import of moldy dust and debris into your new home.
Question: we have mold problems in our home, and rats and other stuff
(Apr 29, 2011) Daniel Charvet said: we are having medical issues due to mold in our home.
(Aug 12, 2011) joy said:
I had a professional come out and inspect my apartment for mold and sure enough he found plenty.
But when I gave the report to my landlord, He said I had to hire a Lawyer, because he wasn't going to help me at all.
All I want is to have him pay for my moving expenses so I can get out of here before any of us get really sick. I had my kids go stay with there brother and I have packed everything up to move. But he will not help me with the expense. What can I do?
(Jan 31, 2013) Mercedes said:
I've been in my duplex now 7 months and first notice mold on my walls like on the 3rd month. I told my landlord about when he came to collect the rent he walked inside he seen it and then just quickly said "oh yea you just got to open your windows up to let the place air out and put a little bit of bleach on it and it will go away".
So I did we cleaned the whole house.But now we still have the mold all over the walls again the doors almost all my stuff in the house like,clothes,shoe s,stuffed toys,chair,sofa,and table
.I have 5 more moths left on my lease and i have a 5 yr old child with asthma i am 5 months pregnant and i've been getting sick constantly with congestion cough sore throat.and so has he i meant to move because i cant deal with this problem anymore but i would have to break my lease any advice please I' m desperate to know what to do. Thank you.
(Apr 4, 2014) Delores Clements said:
My daughter just moved from a house that she had rented for two years. Numerous times, she asked her landlord to do something about all the black mold that was in the house, eventually covering everything. Her young daughter was constantly sick so she moved.
The landlord would not do anything to get rid of the problem except spray bleach on the ceilings or in the windows. Can something be done so other unsuspecting people will not have to live in the mold as she did?
4/25/2015 Anonymous said:
I live in a trailer that has rats bad they have eaten wholes through the walls and through my furniture that isn't even paid for the smoke alarms don't work and if u leave a cup of maybe juice out for a full day on the table mold grows on it
Joy, my OPINION (and I am not a lawyer) is that if you have notified your landlord in writing, not just orally, then s/he has some serious liabilities lurking should the landlord do nothing about a mold problem and should some future tenant get sick. Your attorney should advise you on how to proceed.
But keep your priorities clear
#1. personal health and safety
#2. don't import moldy dust and debris into the new home - clean your stuff: wash, wipe, or launder or dryclean
The article above was my best attempt at answering your question.
Considering that your daughter has already moved out of the premises, and that you describe what is an incompetent approach to mold remediation, and especially if your daughter has reason to know (by having seen it) or think (by health complaints, building leak history or other evidence) that there is a large mold contamination problem in the building,
it would be reasonable to alert your local health department *in writing* calmly, politely, pointing out the facts and adding the risk that occupancy by a new tenant could be dangerous, especially for someone who is elderly, immune-compromised, asthmatic, allergic, or infant.
You are welcome to print and attach copies of pages from InspectApedia or my note to you in information you provide to authorities.
A second concern is that if your daughter's furnishings or clothing were exposed to high levels of old, those items should be cleaned lest she import a high level of problematic spores or allergens or other particles into her new home.
Keep us posted - your updates may assist other readers.
Anon: about those rats and mold:
If the landlord is not helping with site cleanup and providing professional rat exterminator services it may be appropriate to ask your health department for help.
Question: inspect for mold before signing a lease?
(Aug 24, 2012) Amanda said:
im planning to move come next week into an apartment (my first one) should i request a mold inspection befor sighning a lease. granted i can only inspect so much, i cant see through the walls or ceiling.
I would start with an inspection of the property in general, the building outdoors, and indoors in all accessible areas. If you see a history of leaks, water stains, flooding or visible mold that'd be a red flag.
Continue reading at HIDDEN MOLD RISKS for RENTERS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Navarro, Mireya, "Tenants Press Record Button in Dispute With the Landlord", The New York Times, 19 October 2015, p. A-1 & A-20. Excerpt:
"Recordings often figure in the city's housing disputes, but usually it has been the landlord who has used the technology, capturing video that might show, for example, tenants violating their leases by renting their apartments to tourists. But tenants have caught on to the usefulness of the electronic devicves in their pockets, even in cases with little physical evidence. Housing Cout judges say tenants have been submitting videos of leaks and other bad conditions in their apartments in recent years..."
When to Hire a Mold Professional has advice on whether or not it's appropriate to hire an expert to evaluate a mold problem. These same guidelines may help tenants assess their mold-risk in deciding if outside help is needed in dealing with property managers and moldy or mold-suspect rental properties
Kansas State University, department of plant pathology, extension plant pathology web page on wheat rust fungus: see http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/path-ext/factSheets/Wheat/Wheat%20Leaf%20Rust.asp
"A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home",
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
US EPA - Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Building [Copy on file at /sickhouse/EPA_Mold_Remediation_in_Schools.pdf ] - US EPA
US EPA - Una Breva Guia a Moho - Hongo [Copy on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Moho_Guia_sp.pdf - en Espanol
Allergies, Allergens, Allergy Testing in Buildings - References & Products
Allergen Tests in Buildings advice about how to test, what to look for, in evaluating the level of dog, cat, or other animal allergens in a building
"IgG Food Allergy Testing by ELISA/EIA, What do they really tell us?" Sheryl B. Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, Clinical Laboratory Director, Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic - ELISA testing accuracy: Here is an example of Miller's critique of ELISA
http://www.betterhealthusa.com/public/282.cfm - Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients
The critique included in that article raises compelling questions about IgG testing assays, which prompts our interest in actually screening for the presence of high levels of particles that could carry allergens - dog dander or cat dander in the case at hand.
http://www.tldp.com/issue/174/IgG%20Food%20Allergy.html contains similar criticism in another venue but interestingly by the same author, Sheryl Miller. Sheryl Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, is an Immunologist and Associate Professor of Basic and Medical Sciences at Bastyr University in Bothell, Washington. She is also the Laboratory Director of the Bastyr Natural Health Clinic Laboratory.
Allergens: Testing for the level of exposure to animal allergens is discussed at http://www.animalhealthchannel.com/animalallergy/diagnosis.shtml (lab animal exposure study is interesting because it involves a higher exposure level in some cases
Allergens: WebMD discusses allergy tests for humans at webmd.com/allergies/allergy-tests
Animal Allergens: Dog, Cat, and Other Animal Dander - Cleanup & Prevention Information for Asthmatics and regarding Indoor Air Quality.
Recognizing Allergens: What various indoor allergens look like - identification photos to help identify pollen, dust mites, animal dander, toxic or allergenic mold - Common Mold and other Allergens, Irritants, Remedies & Advice
Rodent control issues, including dander, fecal, and urine contamination of Buildings and Building insulation are discussed at our
Associations: Sick House, Sick Building, SBS - Air Quality, Government, Private Associations and Information Resources
Atlas of Clinical Fungi, 2nd Ed., GS deHoog, J Guarro, J Gene, & MJ Figueras, Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures, Universitat Rovira I Virgili, 2000, ISBN 90-70351-43-9 (you can buy this book at Amazon) - The Atlas of Clinical Fungi is also available on CD ROM
"A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home", U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
"Disease Prevention in Home Vegetable Gardens,"
Department of Plant Microbiology and Pathology,
Department of Horticulture, University of Missouri Extension - extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6202
Fifth Kingdom, Bryce Kendrick, ISBN13: 9781585100224, is available from the InspectAPedia online bookstore - we recommend the CD-ROM version of this book. This 3rd/edition is a compact but comprehensive encyclopedia of all things mycological. Every aspect of the fungi, from aflatoxin to zppspores, with an accessible blend of verve and wit. The 24 chapters are filled with up-to-date information of classification, yeast, lichens, spore dispersal, allergies, ecology, genetics, plant pathology, predatory fungi, biological control, mutualistic symbioses with animals and plants, fungi as food, food spoilage and mycotoxins.
Ozone Warnings - Use of Ozone as a "mold" remedy is ineffective and may be dangerous.
Rot concerns in buildings-some building mold such as Meruliporia incrassata "Poria" risks serious rot and hidden structural damage
US EPA: Una Breva Guia a Moho - Hongo [Copy on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Moho_Guia_sp.pdf - en Espanol
OTHER IAQ ISSUES: How To Find and Address Other Indoor Air or Indoor Environment Contaminants Besides Mold
Mold or allergens may not be the only or even the main indoor environmental contaminant. Don't let media attention to mold
cause so much enviro-scare fear that other, possibly more urgent hazards go un-addressed.
Rodents, Mice, Squirrel Control - I find high levels of mouse and rodent dander, fecal dust, and urine-contaminated dust in some buildings,
and high levels of these materials in building insulation in those locations. If you have a mouse problem, particularly if mice and their waste (fecals or urine) are contaminating
the building HVAC or building insulation, may need both steps to clean up or remove infected materials and steps to stop an ongoing
rodent problem. If squirrels are a problem, the cleanup needs to include closing off entry openings into the building. Get some
help from a licensed pest control expert.
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The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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