Landlords and Leases: The Renter’s Primer on Air Quality

When renter’s are looking for a new apartment the most likely questions that they will ask the landlord or agent will be about the rent, the square footage and other regular aspects related to the property but one question that is equally important but hardly ever gets asked is, how good is the air quality?

Sick building syndrome

The World Health Organisation coined the phrase, sick building syndrome way back in the 1980’s and was used to describe a situation where occupants of a building suffered from health and general respiratory problems without a known explanation for their ailments.

The phrase still has plenty of relevance today but the difference is that more is known about the cause of indoor pollutants and the health problems associated with poor indoor health quality.

Common pollutants

According to Environmental Data Resources, who carry out tests to identify indoor pollutants by checking the air quality and other aspects such as ventilation, there are three main categories of common indoor pollutants.

Combustion pollutants

The sources of combustion pollutants are the gases or particles that come from burning materials such as space heaters, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers and fireplaces, any of which can cause a real problem with the air quality if they suffer from poor or improper ventilation.

The lack of proper ventilation will heighten the risk of common combustion pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are potentially silent and invisible assassins due to the fact that they are colorless and odorless gases.


Volatile organic compounds or VOC’s is the term used to describe a variety of organic chemicals that are released as gases from a number of different solids or liquids.

You will find VOC’s in a wide variety of household products such as cleaning and disinfecting supplies, paints and varnishes, pesticides, air fresheners, sealing caulks and solvents and adhesives plus a number of personal care products and cosmetics.

It is quite an extensive list of common household items that will contain VOC’s in the form of Acetone, Benzene, Formaldehyde, Methylene chloride and Perchloroethylene, amongst others.

Allergy triggers

There are a number of potential sources of pollutants that can trigger allergic reactions and heighten the problems of asthma.

If there is a higher than acceptable level of pollutants such as mold, dust mites, pollen, tobacco smoke or pet dander, these can all create a health problem. Mold can be present on shower curtains and in areas that are exposed to damp conditions and dust mites can be found in soft textiles like blankets and pillows.

Whilst the landlord cannot be expected to control the level of pollutants caused by some issues such as dust mites in soft textiles, a regular inspection by a professional to test the levels of air pollution and to check for any source of contaminants and also verify that adequate ventilation is in place, will help to ensure the building enjoys good air quality.

A happy and a healthy renter is likely to stick around a lot longer if the building or apartment they are in is not “sick”.

Peter Samuels has extensive experience as a rentals manager. He often writes about his experiences leasing and managing tenants on rental and management blogs.


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