Insert:    
Visibility:     Module:   

Blog Posts

Ensuring an Asthma-Safe Home: The Role of Tenants and Landlords


Creating a safe and healthy home for someone with asthma is challenging. The home can play host to many serious asthma triggers, including pests like cockroaches and dust mites, dampness, and ventilation problems that allow accumulation of particulate matter and other types of air pollution. People spend a significant portion of their time inside their home, and about 20% to 30% of asthma cases are linked to home environmental conditions.

While there are certainly steps that individual households can take to reduce these triggers in their home, renters often face unique barriers.

For example, while a household can take steps to remediate a pest problem in their apartment, the infestation may be present in the entire building. Mold and fungi due to leaks or dampness may be caused by structural problems outside of the renter’s control. Tenants may also be restricted in the changes they can make to their unit, like removing carpeting.

Given that over a third of U.S. households rent and one in four live in multiunit buildings, challenges like these warrant particular attention. Moreover, communities of color are both disproportionately burdened by asthma and more likely to live in rental housing.

Preventing and resolving housing issues is most successful when landlord and tenant work together. Multnomah County, Oregon’s Public Health Department, created a resource that highlights these opportunities: What Makes a Healthy Home: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants. The toolkit outlines the seven principles* of a healthy home (dry, clean, safe, ventilated, pest-free, maintained, and contaminant-free), and outlines how both tenants and landlords can play a role in maintaining the healthy status of a unit.

Regarding moisture, for example, the guide explains how landlords are responsible for ensuring all fans are in proper working order and are ventilated outside of the property, regularly inspecting the gutters and making sure all windows are well sealed. Tenants, on the other hand, are in charge of using the fans when showering or cooking, communicating water leaks to landlord immediately, and keeping their unit temperature around 68 degrees to both prevent mold and keep it well ventilated.

While in many case tenants and landlords can work together to solve these problems proactively, if a problem does arise that the landlord is not addressing, tenants have rights. When considering issues of tenants rights, it would be wise to seek legal assistance, especially before taking any action regarding the lease or payment. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows tenants to search for legal aid by state.

Most states have an implied warranty of habitability, which means that landlords must keep their properties “habitable” even if the upkeep isn’t specifically stipulated in the lease. Every state except Arkansas requires rental housing be kept in “livable condition,” which means that it must have safe electrical, plumbing, heating, and ventilation systems, as well as clean and safe hallways and stairs. These requirements also require garbage removal and vermin extermination. Beyond these baseline standards, the definition of “habitable” varies under state and local law. Households living in Section 8 or other federally-sponsored housing are covered under more strict federal standards.

If an issue goes unaddressed, tenants can contact the building manager with a written request about the situation. It is important to document the problem in detail including photos, a description of the issue, and the date and time of the issue. If the building manager is not responsive, however, tenants can request a city or county inspection for violations. Each state has slightly different processes for such complaints, but a call to the local health department is often a good place to start.

Finally, the U.S. Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide additional protections for individuals with disabilities who live in subsidized rental housing. Asthma is specifically classified as a disability under FHA and ADA. Tenants with asthma have “a legal right for reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices or services. They also are entitled to structural changes by the reasonable modification provision when a particular asthma trigger in the housing environment impacts their disability.” FHA and state fair housing laws provide similar protections for market-rate housing.

The process of submitting a formal complaint or request for accommodations can be challenging and new for tenants. Many tenants often don’t feel comfortable making complaints about their housing quality due to uncertainty as to how their landlord will respond or fear of retaliation. This is especially true for tenants living in high-demand rental markets where eviction rates are high. Many tenants also face other barriers to submitting complaints, including language access and work schedules. Local asthma coalitions, tenants rights organizations, and  local public health departments can provide support to tenants through this process. While there is no comprehensive list of asthma coalitions, you can usually find resources by searching “asthma coalition city, state” or “public health department city, state.” Some of these groups even coordinate environmental assessments using the EPA environmental assessment checklist and are able to triage violations directly.

For households living in rental housing, the challenges to creating a healthy home environment can be significant. Ideally, tenants and landlords can work together to prevent asthma triggers and remediate any issues. However, while protections and processes are in place to support this collaboration, in practice resolving these problems can be time-consuming and discouraging for tenants. Understanding their rights as tenants and enlisting the support of local organizations can be critical to a tenant’s success.


_______________

*Note: At the time that What Makes a Healthy Home: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants was published, there were seven accepted principles of healthy housing. An eighth, "thermally-controlled," has since been adopted by the healthy homes community.

A version of this article was published in July 2013 as "How to Create an Asthma Safe Home Part II: Solutions for Tenants and Landlords" on the Propeller Health site. The author has modified portions of the article for publication here.




Justine Marcus is currently pursuing a dual degree, Masters in City Planning and Masters in Public Health, at the University of California Berkeley. Through her graduate studies, Justine is exploring how community infrastructure‎ – from housing, to water, to governance ‎– can be used to address health disparities and build community power. She is currently a graduate student researcher for the UC Berkeley Center for Community Innovation, where she is examining the health and material impacts of evictions on households. Justine is a proud Wisconsinite and lifelong public school alumna.  

Infrastructure and Mortgages: What about the Kids?


During the 2016 election season, Donald Trump (the Republican presidential nominee, now president) proposed spending $1 trillion dollars on infrastructure to put people to work and rebuild the sinews of the nation. Democrats have also called for infrastructure improvements. Those improvements must include making our homes and schools safe for our children. In its recent (January 2) editorial, "Housing that Ruins Your Finances and Your Health," The New York Times wrote, “One solution would be for Fannie Mae to eliminate dangerous lead conditions in foreclosed homes.” But lead requirements are antiquated or nonexistent not only at Fannie Mae but also at Freddie Mac and HUD’s FHA single-family mortgage insurance program. These federal housing programs are the only ones that were not reformed back in 1999 and are long overdue to be fixed.

In years past, both parties worked together to reduce childhood lead poisoning. But Flint is only the tip of the iceberg, and parents of lead-poisoned children are demanding that we do more to put a stop to the needless suffering. Lead poisoning costs us an estimated $50 billion annually for healthcare, substandard school performance, and lost work productivity (2008 dollars).1 The real tragedy is that we know how to fix lead hazards. The disasters in Flint and elsewhere could have been prevented and will now cost much more than if we had made the necessary upfront investments and reforms. The inadequate lead requirements at FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac should comply with HUD lead-safe housing regulations, but they currently do not.

Traditionally, infrastructure spending only goes for roads and bridges and the basic equipment and structures that are needed for a country to function properly. But many are surprised to learn that the lead services lines bringing water into their homes are NOT part of the “infrastructure” and that the burden was on families to replace them. They are also surprised that home inspections required by mortgage companies do not include lead inspections. 

We think infrastructure and federally guaranteed mortgages should be used to make our homes safe for our children. Indeed, we have “shared” our homes with guests and friends and, of course, our families. But 37 million homes built before 1978 have lead paint,2 and at least six million homes have lead water service lines. This “shared” lead has poisoned millions of our children, sometimes poisoning one child after another as one family leaves and another moves in. Existing FHA, Fannie, and Freddie underwriting standards are part of the problem, but they could be part of the solution.

The biggest culprit is old single-pane painted windows, which have the highest lead paint and lead dust levels of any building component. Replacing windows is already a proven strategy. In a pilot program, Illinois replaced lead-contaminated windows in Peoria and Chicago in 500 homes,3 resulting in huge and sustained lead dust reductions not only on windows but also on floors; and many other studies have reached similar conclusions.

The time has come to replace all those old contaminated windows, those lead drinking water pipes, and the other lead hazards in our homes. Enormous benefits follow if infrastructure funds are used to address lead in homes:
  • First, over 75,000 jobs – good-paying jobs for both made-in-America window manufacturing and installation workers;
  • Second, increased property values anywhere from $5,900 to $14,300 per home4
  • Third, a return on investment of at least $17 per dollar spent on lead remediation or removal5
  • Fourth, up to $500 per household saved each year on reduced fuel bills, because new windows are more energy efficient.6 
With the right infrastructure improvements, we can all share safe drinking water and lead-safe homes. 

The evidence is clear – whether in small towns or big cities, rural or urban: We all win when we eliminate lead hazards and protect our children. Our traditional approach has been to respond only after a child is poisoned, but there is no reason to wait until the damage has already been done. We should test our homes and schools, not just our children’s blood. And we should insist that housing finance institutions like FHA, Fannie, and Freddie do the right thing and eliminate those hazards before children are poisoned.

As part of our new national infrastructure initiative, let’s include solving the lead problem. We urge the new president and Congress to protect our children. Let’s not wait for another Flint or another poisoned child. Get Fannie, Freddie, and FHA to do the right thing. Get rid of those old lead-contaminated windows and old lead pipes and put our people back to work to protect our children and our future.

_______________

1 Tresande, L., & Liu, Y. (2011, May). Reducing the staggering costs of environmental disease in children. Health Affairs 30(5), 863. Retrieved February 21, 2017,
from http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/5/863.long
2 Cox, D. C., Dewalt, G., O'Haver, R., Salatino, B. (2011, April). American healthy homes survey: Lead and arsenic findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from  https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=AHHS_Report.pdf
3 Jacobs, D. E., Tobin, M.,Targos, L., Clarkson, D., Dixon, S. L. Breysse, J., et al. (2016, September-October). Replacing windows reduces childhood lead exposure: Results from a state-funded program. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, 22(5), 482-491. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26910871
4 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540
5 Gould, E. (2009, July). Childhood lead poisoning: Conservative estimates of the social and economic benefits of lead hazard control. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(7), 1162-1167. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/117/7/ehp.0800408.pdf
6 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540



Related: Portuguese Translation
Infraestrutura e hipotecas: E as crianças: "Infrastructure and Mortgages: What about the Kids?" was translated into Portuguese by Artur Weber and Adelina Domingos. Note that this article was not translated by NCHH; therefore, we cannot be responsible for any errors or omissions in the translation. [url]


 
Dr. David Jacobs, former Director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the Chief Scientist for the National Center for Healthy Housing and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

Anita Weinberg is a Clinical Professor and the Director of the ChildLaw Policy Institute at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, which spearheaded lead poisoning prevention efforts in Illinois for over 10 years.

Disqus Comments

Archive

Archive by Years
Tags
Categories