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When looking to rent a house or apartment, there are many environmental health and safety issues to take into account. The quality of the environment where you live can affect the health of everyone in the home. It is very important to understand the different issues so you can recognize when there may be a problem. Environmental hazards in the home can come from many sources, and being aware of the potential concerns is the first step to a healthier life. From asbestos to mold and everything in between, this article will introduce you to the things you should look for before signing any lease. Being aware of these dangers and understanding the warning signs can help you avoid a major renters insurance claim in the future.


Asbestos is a mineral that has been used in many building products. There are many diseases related to asbestos exposure such as: lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and laryngeal cancer. Asbestos is also one of the most highly regulated substances in the United States because it is so hazardous. If the home or apartment you are looking to rent was built before 1980, there is a very good possibility that there could be asbestos containing materials in the building. Be sure to ask the owner if they have had an in depth asbestos inspection.

The presence of asbestos in a building is not necessarily a hazard. If the asbestos containing material is intact and in good condition, there is minimal if any risk at all to the building occupants. Asbestos is most hazardous when it is released into the air where it can get into your lungs and cause disease. Because of this, any damaged asbestos materials should be repaired or removed before an area is occupied. Also, any remaining asbestos should be carefully maintained to prevent future damage. Ensure that any asbestos materials are not easily accessible to children. Before any renovation make sure that all materials have been tested by an accredited asbestos inspector.


Lead is another hazard commonly found in residential buildings. Lead can be inhaled, ingested and absorbed through the skin. Lead poisoning can cause retardation and death, as well as contribute to learning disabilities in young children. Some symptoms of lead poisoning are restlessness, headaches, irritability, muscle tremors and memory loss. Lead poisoning is a greater risk to small children for a few reasons. Children inhale a proportionately higher volume of air than adults and they also absorb lead though their GI tract more quickly. Children are also more likely to take in non-food lead sources during normal mouthing activities.

Lead was used in paint and stains primarily before 1980, although some newer homes may still have lead paint. Lead paint becomes a hazard when it is flaking, chipped, sanded or disturbed. Children who eat the paint chips or chew on the painted surface will ingest the lead from the paint. Make sure all painted surfaces are in good condition and not flaking, especially window sills and trim. If you have a family with young children, make sure to ask if the paint has been tested for lead. If lead has been found and you are concerned, consider requesting that the lead painted components be replaced.


In the past decade, mold has become one of the most widely discussed health hazards. When looking to rent a home, whether you are a student or senior citizen, it is very important to understand how and where to look for mold. Mold can be a hazard for people with allergies, asthma or any respiratory ailment. The more susceptible you are to allergens, the more hazardous mold will be to your health. Some mold may only give you a stuffy nose or watery eyes, while others have been known to cause brain damage. Every home has some mold somewhere, since mold is naturally in the air we breathe every day. The problems arise when you get the wrong kind of mold, or a large amount of it.

When looking for a house to rent, just follow your nose to find mold. Most mold problems will make themselves very apparent by the musty smell they produce. For example, if you walk into a condo that you are looking to rent and it smells like a football locker room, there is probably a mold problem. Make sure to look in the basement and the attic for visible signs of mold. Bathrooms are also a good place to quickly check, under sinks and in showers. If a mold problem is found, the affected material should be removed or cleaned and encapsulated. If there is drywall that is moldy it should be removed and replaced. On the other hand if the plywood roof decking is moldy, it will probably be more cost effective to clean and encapsulate the wood. After the removal, the source of water that is causing the growth needs to be found and fixed. If the water continues to leak, the mold will just grow back.


If the place you are looking to rent has a basement, or if the rental is in the basement of a building, you will want to make sure it has been tested for Radon. Behind smoking and asbestos exposure, radon is the next leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is an odorless and colorless gas, so you would not know if it is in the air. The radon gas seeps from the dirt into the cracks of the foundation and can build up to dangerous levels. If you are looking at a third floor loft apartment, the danger of high levels of radon is very low. This is in spite of the fact that you could look at the same building in the basement and find high levels that should be addressed.

Carbon Monoxide

When looking to rent, always make sure the furnace and HVAC system is working as it should be. This is very important since this system is what makes sure the air in your home is circulating properly. Ask the owner if the filters are replaced on a regular basis in order to keep the furnace running efficiently and the air clean. Gas appliances, such as furnaces, can release dangerous levels of carbon monoxide if they are broken or not properly maintained. Always have a CO detector in your home to keep your family safe. Having proper safety equipment, like a CO detector, may also lower your insurance premiums.

Asking about hazards and safety before you ever sign a lease on a rental home can save you a lot of trouble later on. Be sure you understand what some of the biggest potential dangers are, and that your rental home has been inspected and found free of those dangers. By ensuring the safety of a rental prior to leasing, you can help protect your family's health and make the right choice on which apartment or townhouse to rent.

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