10 questions to ask when renting a house
It's wise to consider your health when you sign a lease on a single-family home.
By Stephen Cook, HSH.com
If you're considering renting a house, you're not alone. The number of single-family rentals grew by 21 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Compared to apartments, single-family rentals offer most of the amenities of homeownership, but without the mortgage.
However, it's up to you to make sure that your family will feel safe and be healthy in the rental you choose. Here are 10 questions you should ask when renting a single-family home.
1. What kind of smoke alarms?
Earlier this year, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) urged homeowners to replace ionization fire alarms, which account for over 90 percent of alarms in use, with photoelectric sensing alarms. ASHI said smoke alarms have failed to provide warning in too many cases.
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"All of the facts tell us that photoelectric alarms provide superior protection in real-world fatal fires," says Bill Jacques, president of the ASHI in Charleston, S.C. "We recommend that homeowners replace their ionization alarms with photoelectric alarms whenever possible."
The National Fire Protection Association, however, advises that both types of smoke-alarm technologies should be used because they work differently. Be sure to ask the landlord if both types of alarms have been installed.
2. Where are the smoke detectors?
Building codes require a smoke detector be affixed to the ceiling above a bedroom and in any other room such as a kitchen or fireplace where a fire could start.
Local codes may also require landlords to have operating carbon-monoxide detectors, says Brenton Hayden, CEO of Renters Warehouse, the nation's third-largest property-management company serving single-family rentals, in Minneapolis. Make sure fire extinguishers are recharged and onsite, and ask if the home has been inspected by the fire marshal.
3. Is the home secure?
Look for home-safety features such as solid doors with keyed locks and dead bolts on outside doors, peepholes in the doors, security cameras and security systems, Hayden says.
4. Is the outside properly lit?
Lighting may be subject to vandalism. Security lights should either be mounted very high, or protected by wire mesh or tough polycarbonate shields. Make sure that there is outside lighting so that you can walk safely to and from your car at night, Hayden says.
5. What about radon?
Tenants should ask if the home has been tested for radon because long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer and other health issues.
While radon is a problem in some areas more than others, "it's easy to remediate," Hayden says. "Basically, it involves a fan underneath the house and a vent to the outside."
5. Is there lead paint?
According to the EPA, if the home was built before 1978, there's a good chance it contains lead paint. Lead paint may be found on virtually any surface in the home, but is most dangerous on areas a child can reach, such as window sills and doors.
Federal law requires landlords to provide renters with the following:
- The "Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home" pamphlet
- Any knowledge of existing lead paint
- An amendment to the lease which states that lead-paint issues have been revealed and discussed
Renters can also ask landlords to get a "lead hazard inspection."
"There are nonprofits that will remediate lead paint if a tenant can't afford it," Hayden says.
7. How about asbestos?
The prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. In residential settings today, asbestos is rarely found in homes except potentially in or around old boilers, Hayden says. If it is found, the landlord is responsible for having a professional remove it.
8. Is there mold?
"Toxic mold is probably the most common problem we have to deal with," Hayden says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, high quantities of mold spores can present especially hazardous health risks to humans, including allergic reactions, poisoning or fungal infection.
"There is an incredible amount of fear and we take it very seriously," Hayden says. "We remediate it or we make our owners remediate it."
Mold testing costs between $300 to $500, which the landlord might be willing to pay for or split with you. If mold is found, it should be removed and repairs should be made to ensure it won't return.
9. What about flooding?
"Most renters' insurance doesn't cover damage caused by floods," Hayden says. However, the federal government's flood-insurance program has a policy for renters that covers contents up to $100,000 and costs as little as $55 a year for renters who live in moderate to low-risk areas.
10. What if I develop a health issue after I move in?
In addition to contacting the landlord, Jacques suggests you continually document the condition of the property from the time that you take possession.
"Send [the report] to the landlord to document that there is a record of problems like a leaky roof that could lead to mold and mildew if it is not fixed. Documentation is something that could serve a tenant very well, especially in a home as opposed to an apartment. Having a written record could help the tenant get his deposit back."
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I read with interest the comment from the landlord about the unlikeliness of toxic mold being a problem and basically poo-pooing it away as outlandish. I am sorry to burst that bubble, but let me tell you as a homeowner who has dealt with it -- it is NOT obvious, not even always visible, and contrary to what you say it often takes awhile before it is noticeable. I moved into a new home in March and things seemed fine. No odd smell, no symptoms, etc. But two months later, a notably "green", earthy odor became noticeable. I searched the 'net for these smells and lo & behold mold was mentioned. I also began having burning eyes, skin & throat, chest tightness, and actually nearly went to the ER because it was so overwhelming. Finally I abandoned the house & took my 3 kids and left. I heard from the neighbors later that there had been a fire in the house -- yet NO ONE disclosed this info to me at the time of purchase. Not only was *this* house infested w/mold, but little did I know that when I took my possessions (mattresses, furniture, clothing, etc.) to my new house the mold comes WITH THEM! It is called "cross-contamination" and now we are once again suffering. I have never had an allergy in my life, but this has been an absolute nightmare. Even my poor little doggie has nearly gone bald and spends his time scratching and rolling back & forth on the ground. We are all extremely sick.
Another question that this author failed to mention however is investigating whether the house was a meth house. Read up on it: this is becoming an absolute EPIDEMIC in rental units, and it is not at all obvious until tenants begin having serious health symptoms from the chemicals that are now embedded in the walls, carpet, wood, etc. Often times the only thing to do is demolish the place because cleanup is not financially prudent. # There are meth test kits that you can purchase & perform yourself that are reasonably priced. Hate to say it but it's a cold, cruel world out there & everyone is looking out for #1. It's up to YOU to do your homework & protect yourself as much as possible.
One more thing, I have lived in my complex for this the third year, I have a great relationship with my management company. I don't live on state aid or Section 8 or any federal rental program--I pay my rent on time in full I have the walls painted the color I want, have friends over anytime, have a dog with only $10.00 a month rent, include many amenities in my place, have it quiet all the time, have the view I want, have clean carpets, and have no problems. The place I lived before that gave me a great reference because I asked for it when I moved in saying that was the most important thing to me, getting a great reference, and the place before that where I lived for almost three years also gave me a great written reference. It is all possible, people who bitch about their management companies don't negotiate, pay rent on time, or treat themselves with any love--don't feel sorry for them.
There is no end to these types of stupid articles.....There are now many laws written for rental properties only....Like if it is really a safety hazard, why are owner properties exempt? These things come about by people who have a financial interest in selling insurance, building code people, consumer representatives, reps for renter organizations, ACLU, Lobbyists who work for cities and governments, etc. It is like the Federal government. They want numerous laws and requirements for you...but they want nothing to do with them personally. They dont want the laws to apply to them. Yet, they can brag that they are protecting the public....and the poor....
If the renter is not saitisfied with the type of smoke dectector supplied...they are free to supply their own. I just dont hear of many people dying because of the type of smoke detector....Also, I will bet that close to 50% of the detectors in rentals dont work simply because either the battery or the dectector has been removed by the tenant.
You want security cameras and alarms??? Then you buy and install them. Unless it is a very expensive property or a very large complex....this is not likely...If you are that insistant...go to the high rent district and pay the going rent rates.
Radon? Radon is non existant in many areas.....But surely we all want a law for radon control and monitoring....and we want to pay for it, right?
Lead paint....is just bogus...but now we have a law. Few properties were painted with lead paint in the 60s and 70s so the pre 78 date is just phony. If the building was built in the twenties thru the 40s(how many are there?) and if it were painted with lead paint, how many coats on non lead paint are now covering that??? It might be better to check with the records in an area and find out how many people were affected by lead paint....and you will find that it is almost zero....This is an old scare story about large city tenement buildings now mostly more than 75 yrs old...
Asbestos...is another scare subject. If there is asbestos, it is likely to be hidden and incapsulated behind a cover or coats of paint...and safe. It is only those who are working with this product who are at danger....It is not going to jump out of a pipe that is covered with then coats of paint and inject you with cancer.
Is there mold? I will almost guarantee you that almost every house in the world has some mold somewhere.....and it is rare that it is a danger to anyone. It is a very rare situation that mold will cause a death and if a house has that much dangerous mold....you would certainly be aware of it in short order.
Flood? simply ask the owner and real estate people if an area has been flooded. Ask the neighbors. Check the records to see if it is in a flood plain...
If you are unhappy with a property....simply move. If you harrass the owner constantly with demands, then expect to be asked to move ....or pay very high rent....that you caused....