Our home should be our sanctuary – a place where we feel safe, healthy, and comfortable. Unfortunately, there are times when issues come up that make us feel just the opposite. As a renter, it’s important to know your rights. Your landlord is responsible for helping you to maintain a safe and healthy living space. Here are 10 reasons to call the health department for help in addressing issues in your home.
1. Mouse & Cockroach Infestations
It’s normal to see an insect here and there in your living space, but it’s another thing to have a vermin infestation. Rats, mice, and cockroaches aren’t just an annoyance. They carry diseases like salmonella and E. coli, and can trigger asthma attacks. You can prevent mice and cockroach infestations by keeping food sealed or in the refrigerator, not leaving dishes in the sink overnight, and sweeping up crumbs as soon as you see them. However, this may not be enough to keep pests at bay if there is a serious infestation. If your landlord will not hire an exterminator to help address the issue, call your local health department.
While bedbugs don’t carry disease or pose a particular health risk, they do cause their “victims” a great deal of distress…and sleepless nights. If you think you have bedbugs, it’s important to alert your landlord right away because they can spread very quickly. If your landlord doesn’t take quick action to eliminate bedbugs, the health department can help.
Mold is a common problem, and it also poses a health hazard. Mold exposure can trigger asthma and allergies, and some people experience more severe reactions like fever or shortness of breath. Mold comes in different colors, including green, yellow, gray, black, and orange. It can appear either slimy or fuzzy, and has an earthy or musty smell. You will typically find it in dark and damp places, like the bathroom or basement. If after an initial cleaning, the mold comes back or spreads, it is likely that there is a widespread problem in the building. If your landlord tries to ignore the problem, it might be time to give a call to your local health department.
If you live in a house or apartment building that was built before 1978, it’s very likely that lead paint was used at some point. This is not necessarily cause for concern, unless the paint is flaking or chipping. Lead is a toxic substance, especially for babies and children, as it can damage their brains and lead to learning impairments. Each city and town has its own set of regulations that landlords need to follow when it comes to painting their rental properties, but it is almost certain that no matter where you live, the landlord is responsible for keeping the paint in your home fresh and free of chipping and peeling. If you have a negligent landlord who doesn’t take care of the paint in your home, especially an older home, you should contact your health department.
Asbestos is a material that was used as a flame retardant in many buildings constructed before 1980. It has come to light in recent years that asbestos is very dangerous, and can lead to cancers of the lung and tissue around the lung. It is difficult to know whether asbestos is present without having an inspection performed by a professional, but if you have reason to believe there is asbestos in your home, this is indeed a reason to contact your local health department.
6. Water, Heat & Electricity
These issues are some of the most popular reasons to call the health department. Landlords are responsible for keeping their rentals “habitable”. In other words, they have to help you maintain a standard of living that fulfills your basic needs and keeps you safe. While regulations vary from city to city, it is standard that landlords must provide hot water 24/7, heat when the temperature falls below a certain threshold (usually about 55 degrees), and the infrastructure required to deliver electricity to your home at all times. If your landlord is failing to provide these basic needs, it is definitely time to call the health department.
7. Garbage Removal
Landlords are required to provide garbage and recycling cans, and must have the trash taken out to its designated pickup spot each garbage day. If your landlord regularly fails to do this, it may present a hazard to your health, attracting rodents, cockroaches, or even larger animals like racoons or possums. Consider calling your local health department if garbage removal becomes an issue.
8. Dangerous Structural Damage
As mentioned above, landlords everywhere are required to keep their rental properties in “habitable” condition. Leaking roofs, broken stairs, hanging electrical wiring, or rusted fire escapes can be extremely dangerous and should be addressed by your landlord in a timely manner. If conversations with your landlord do not result in action, it may be worth a call to the health department.
This is a tricky one. In most places, it is not yet illegal to smoke indoors. However, some tenants have argued in court that the secondhand smoke from neighbors made their home “uninhabitable”. If you’re suffering the effects of secondhand smoke due to a smoking neighbor, landlord, or building staff, try calling the health department to learn what your rights are as a tenant.
10. Anything that makes your home “uninhabitable”
There are a lot of reasons to call the health department when it comes to renting a house or apartment. Maybe it’s that common areas are never cleaned, strange odors coming from other parts of the building, smoke detectors that don’t quite work, or plumbing that constantly gives you trouble.
What’s the bottom line? If a problem affects your quality of life, puts you or your family in danger, or could be detrimental to your health, it may be among the many reasons to call the health department.