One of every five people in America lives in a multi-family dwelling—such as a town-home, apartment, or condo. Such tight accommodations pose unique health risks as air often circulates between units. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets indoor air quality (IAQ) and environmental standards to protect multi-family residents. Additionally, state and local jurisdictions enact housing codes that set minimum condition requirements that property managers must follow.
Multi-family property owners and property managers are responsible for following all federal, state, and local laws about IAQ and environmental safety. Noncompliance can be costly, even leading to criminal charges in some cases. Here, we’re examining the most common clean air and environmental safety issues facing multi-family property managers—as well as how to be sure you comply.
Indoor Air Quality in Multifamily Housing
While all residential and commercial buildings are susceptible to IAQ problems, multi-family units face a particular challenge because of their shared ventilation systems and close proximity. Therefore, property managers must be mindful of all clear air protection regulations, keeping tenants safe and healthy.
Common types of air pollutants:
Mold and dampness can have severe health effects for tenants. Any continuously damp surfaces can produce mold over time, leading to asthma, allergies, respiratory infections, and other symptoms. Mold and dampness are often the result of poor circulation, plumbing problems, water leaks, or improperly controlled humidity and condensation.
Most local housing codes require landlords to address and remedy mold issues immediately.
Secondhand smoke exposure leads to approximately 14,000 deaths nationwide each year. Those in multifamily dwellings such as apartments and townhouses face this danger every day. Secondhand smoke can travel through the air ducts, walls, windows, and even through the pipes. Children exposed to secondhand smoke face the highest risk.
While most states do not have laws that prohibit smoking in multifamily properties, local municipalities across the nation are beginning to take up this fight. Property managers are responsible for knowing and following their local housing regulations and ensuring all residents abide by the smoke-free rules in their city.
Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas caused by the breakdown of uranium in the soil, rock, and water. Continuous exposure to large amounts of radon over time has been linked to lung cancer. The only way to detect radon is through a specific testing process.
High radon levels can easily be treated via a radon reduction system. Property managers should test units for radon, particularly if it is in a part of the country that has naturally high uranium levels in the soil.
Over the past decade, many states have passed legislation requiring multifamily units, hotels, and other rental properties to install carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill in a matter of minutes. It is often associated with heating elements like improperly functioning water heaters or furnaces. Currently, over half of American states require carbon monoxide detectors.
Environmental Challenges in Multifamily Properties
Federal law requires any home or multi-family unit built before 1978 to come with a lead-based paint disclosure. Property managers must provide tenants with an EPA handout on lead-based paint, a statement outlining any known use of lead-based paint in the building, and a lead disclosure statement included with the lease agreement.
Pest Control and Pesticide Usage
Property managers bear the responsibility to keep their multi-family units pest-free. Pesticides can have harmful effects on tenants, especially those who already have other health challenges. Pest control must be done in a way that protects both air and environmental quality for all tenants and should comply with local and federal regulations.
How Property Managers Can Keep Their Units Safe and Healthy
Property managers have a responsibility to provide all tenants with safe, livable housing conditions. However, the specific requirements vary by state and even differ between municipalities.
Property managers who do not comply with state and federal regulations as indicated by the EPA could be held liable. The penalty for noncompliance can range from fees and fines to criminal prosecution and jail time. At the very least, the EPA will require property managers to mediate any environmental or indoor air quality issues quickly.
If you are unsure about the indoor air quality regulations for your properties, you can contact your state or city’s health department or search online through the Environmental Law Institute.