Decrease your chances of ending up in a home that can make you sick when you INCREASE your mold IQ, apply some proactive indoor air quality detective work, and use some of my tried-and-true mold-safe rental property tips and tools.
Finding a mold-safe home to purchase or building your own mold-safe home are formidable tasks, but I would argue, that finding a mold-safe rental home is actually even more difficult. Rental situations just tend to be harder to take control over. Sometimes getting what you want and need to ensure that your indoor air quality is healthy and won’t cause you further or renewed sickness is next to impossible. It is almost a forgone conclusion that when you are renting, you don’t expect to get exactly what you are looking for and end up taking the least adverse choice, rather than a home that you are excited about and intend to stay in for a while.
Why are healthy rental properties so hard to find?
Mold patients, in particular, are often forced into the rental market. We have the unique issue of needing temporary or rental housing when having to leave our current homes while we make the choice to remediate or sell our “sick” home. At the time, neither “choice” feels like an actual choice and the financial, emotional, and physical stress of finding a temporary or permanent place to live can be daunting. Sometimes, like in my situation, you are lucky enough to have family and friends who will take you in for chunks of time, allowing you to get out of the mold and recover your health and sanity. We were gypsies during our home’s remediation. The kids and I lived in 3 different homes in 3 different states over the course of 4 months while our home was being overhauled, and essentially taken down the studs and rebuilt from the inside out. We had nothing but the new clothes on our backs and each other (we left all of our possessions behind, save some things we had in storage that had never been inside the moldy home), so we were excited to have any place to lay our heads. Others who don’t have that option, have to locate temporary accommodations or rental housing to fill this gap. Some folks for myriad reasons have to find rental housing for the long-term, so they want and need to make a healthy choice about where they live.
Unfortunately, finding a “safe” rental space is especially hard for mold patients, because our bodies have already been through so much. We cannot risk moving into a rental that could also harbor mold or do further damage to our fledgling immune systems, not to mention that fact that we don’t want to risk contaminating new or what few possessions we have taken with us. The reasons for this are many, but in my opinion, when I am focusing on health and mold, the following factors are at play with rentals and should be looked out for:
1.) Rental properties are often built with less care and concern about the use of toxic building materials due to cost. Most times, the landlord and/or owner doesn’t and has never lived in the property. The property was thus built for durability and turnover, so that it can withstand multiple tenants and require the least amount of maintenance over time. Cheaper materials when it comes to carpet, flooring, cabinetry, paint, insulation, etc., are more financially attractive, because when they need replacing, it doesn’t break the bank. Also, if those things are damaged by a tenant, it is not such a blow to the owner’s wallet to replace them. The unfortunate thing is that for the renter, these cheaper materials are often very toxic and contribute to particulates, VOCs, and chemicals in the indoor air. For mold patients, this is incredibly problematic, because their toxic loads are already overflowing and living around toxic materials can make them even sicker.
2.) Maintenance for water intrusion and/or damage are often covered up with fresh drywall and or paint and not properly remediated. Unless a previous renter was sick, most leaks and water issues are not treated with the care and seriousness that they deserve. Many apartment complexes have mold growing between walls, because a pipe broke and was repaired, but the drywall and wall cavity where the leak occurred was never opened up, dried out, and treated for mold and contaminants.
3.) Whatever the previous renter did to the property, good or bad, becomes your concern. Sometimes, albeit rarely, a previous owner has made an improvement to the property. An example could be installing a bathroom ventilation fan when there wasn’t one previously. In that case, you benefit. Most often, though, and you have to go into this fully aware, you will have to live there to figure out what “hidden” problems you are dealing with. An example of this could be a renter who allowed the freezer to thaw and leak behind the refrigerator. Until a musty smell or visible mold occurs, you may not know there ever was a problem.
4.) HVAC systems are not cleaned and maintained as well. It is rare in a rental property that the ducts have been cleaned or than dust and contaminates in the system have ever been tested or even considered. Other than basic maintenance and repairs, you cannot expect that HVAC equipment has been addressed to improve air quality or to address allergies. The filters used are also usually the cheapest ones available and do not capture much or prevent many contaminates from getting into the systems.
5.) Indoor humidity and ventilation are often not considered. I don’t know how many times I have been in a hotel, even a nice hotel, where there isn’t a bathroom fan. Or, if there is one, it just recirculates the air, rather than exhausting it to the outside. Rental properties are often similar. If there is adequate ventilation, sometimes, fans are exhausted into the attic or crawlspace, where the moisture causes mold to grow. Since you are renting, you aren’t going to fix the issue, so it’s yours to deal with. As for moisture, basements, attics, and crawlspace aren’t properly dehumidified. Since they are cooler, darker, and moist, mold often grows. Then, these areas communicate with the rest of the home and can cause mold problems. Because people usually only live in the space for a sort term, these problems are never addressed or corrected.
6.) Complaints of mold are, at times, met with eviction. This is much less expensive than fixing the problem. There are now some new laws in place to protect renters from this, but each state is different, and many are still behind in implementing indoor air quality standards for residential properties.
I obviously could go on, but those are some of the main things that make renting and rental properties problematic for mold patients.
What Should I Look for in a Rental Property?
The good news is, I am here to help. I have researched and spoken with my IAQ professional network to take the “finding a safe rental property process” apart, so that I can guide you step-by-step through your search. Hopefully, I will help you to take some things into consideration that you didn’t think about previously to make this a little less scary and less left up to chance. The bottom line here is that you have left a toxic environment to regain your health. Where you move next matters, even if it is temporary. There is no reason why you cannot find a safe place that doesn’t also make you sick. I think if you employ these tactics and keep them as your checklist, your can absolutely be successful in your home search.
How to find rental homes with the least chance of indoor air quality issues that could hurt your health:
(Note: I am basing ALL of my recommendations on the big picture of indoor air quality (IAQ) and human health, not just mold. This is an important distinction, because you should also be aware of and care deeply about your total toxic exposure in your home, because at the end of the day, this is what effects your body’s total toxic load the most. As a matter of fact, even the EPA (a slow agency to speak up or act on anything unless it is an unequivocal fact) states on their website that the biggest source of toxic exposure is the AIR inside of our HOMES. This includes any chemicals, bacteria, viruses, mold, VOCs, dust, etc., that are floating around in your home’s indoor atmosphere. And, while all of this advice is directed mostly at mold and environmental illness patients whose health depends largely on their indoor environments, I think anyone can benefit from it. It is my opinion that no one can afford to live in a toxic or unhealthy environment. I also strongly believe that everyone deserves a healthy home in whatever form that may take.)
During your search:
1.) Location, location, location. Search for your rental in the best location for your life and for your health. Do not discount the importance of reducing your commute, if you don’t work at home. Less traffic everyday equals less stress in your life, which also equals better healing for your body. (The further I get from the emergency situation of dealing with the actual mold in my home and in my body and am able to focus on continued recovery, the more important emotional well-being, gratitude, and reducing my stress become for me. I encourage you to not gloss over the importance of lowering your stress levels with whatever helpful things you can.) A desirable location will also mean that there are more businesses, parks, doctors, etc., accessible to you. Convenience and ease of getting what you need close to home will help to make your recovery easier. More desirable locations also equal more desirable choices. Owners and landlords will want their properties to stand out and more amenities may be available to you as a result.
2.) Go high, not low. If you are looking in a building or an apartment complex, homes on higher floors or levels offer reduced noise, better air flow, better views, and are much less likely to have had water intrusion issues. As you well know, when there is a leak, the water flows down, so lower level homes are always hit the hardest with the damage.
3.) Greener is better. Look for a home that access to the outdoors and that is surrounded by trees and greenspace. The more greenery, usually the better the air quality and absorption of ground water. Access to the outdoors also means that you can get outside into the sunshine. Sun exposure helps to naturally increase Vitamin D levels which can help tremendously with your recovery. Breathing fresh air whenever possible and just being outside cannot be taken for granted when you have mold illness. Your body was made sick by indoor environments. It needs lots of time outside to help it heal. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I know from my experience that making myself just be outside for at least 30 minutes per day had a HUGE impact on my well-being, mood, and energy levels.
4.) Avoid flight paths and high-tension power lines. If you can see planes flying over or high-tension power lines from the home, do not rent it. In both cases, the toxins given off (jet fuel and EMFs) are harmful to your body. I have personally known 2 people who were in great health prior to moving to homes near power lines. In both cases, their health declined rapidly and even though both people have since moved, they are so highly sensitive to EMFs, that they cannot tolerate using Wi-Fi-enabled devices. In my opinion, it is not worth it to take that chance. Both high-tension power lines and toxins dropped from planes during flight have also been linked to cancer.
5.) Pay attention to any mold evidence. If you see the presence of (a) visible water damage, (b) damp materials, (c) visible mold, or (d) mold odor, these all indicate the high likelihood of mold in the home. Mold evidence is also related to indoor humidity—where there is moisture, there can be mold. Pay attention to condensation on the inside of windows, condensation on air conditioning vents and condensation on walls. All of these things are good indicators of a potential mold problem.
6.) Avoid homes with crawlspaces, dirt basements, and in-slab ventilation. All of these things tend to create poor IAQ and can lead to mold problems in indoor spaces.
7.) Be your own inspector by asking to see the attic, hot water tanks, and HVAC systems. You don’t always have the benefit of a home inspection when renting, so you need to take a look at the source of the home’s air conditioning. If the attic is damp or poorly ventilated, or has ducts exhausting to it from bathroom and kitchen fans, move on. If HVAC units are in poor shape, have rust, water or mold on their outsides or inside on the blower or coil, move on. If overflow pans contain water, mold, or rust, move on.
8.) Look up and down on the outside of the home. Pay attention to the roof, gutters, downspouts, and drainage around the home. I know it is no fun to look at homes in the rain but doing so can give you lots of good information. If water is running towards the home, with no drainage drawing it away (these are often called swales and act like a small ditch that steer water away from the foundation, French drains are also used), this can be a problem. If gutters aren’t working properly, and downspouts aren’t channeling water away from the home, this can be a problem. Also, if the roof is ancient and looks in disrepair, this can be something to ask about or to take into consideration, because the likelihood of a leak is much greater.
9.) Listen to your body. Your body is your greatest asset during this search. It has become acutely aware of and reactive to your indoor environment. Use this to gauge whether or not the home feels healthy and right to you. If anything doesn’t seem right, don’t ignore your body’s signals. Move on.
You’ve Found a Home You Like and That Meets the “Mold Criteria”—Now What?
Time to Meet the Landlord.
So, you’ve found a potential rental candidate in the location you want, with outdoor access, and it seems like it could work. Now, you need to reach out to the landlord. At this point, there are some crucial questions to ask that can determine, almost instantly, where you go from here. I do not suggest doing this in person. What I suggest is asking these questions via email or phone call. This will make it less awkward to really ask what you need to ask and will remove any discomfort for the landlord of giving you honest and straightforward answers. In other words, it will help to take the sales pitch out of the equation and will give you much more valuable information before you move forward.
Here is what I would ask:
1.) Was the home or unit remodeled within the last 3 months? The most common remodels for rental homes are also the most toxic from an indoor air quality standpoint. This list includes carpeting (cleaning or new), painting, cabinet rehab (staining, stripping, replacing), and drywall repair. If the home was recently remodeled, it probably won’t be the best choice for a mold patient, because all of these things take 3-5 months to off-gas. If they haven’t remodeled or updated yet, this is a good time to tell them that you are “highly allergic to many construction materials” (I find framing it this way gains less skepticism and push-back) and would like to participate in what things are being done to and used in the home for the remodel. It is also very helpful if you say that you can submit a list of materials and chemicals that are problematic for you. They can then review that list to make sure that they haven’t been used in the home. For both parties, being upfront is ALWAYS best.
2.) What types of updates/freshening do you intend to do to the home prior to a new tenant taking possession? And, what things can be altered during that process to make the home healthier? If you ask as if you care about increasing the value of the home by making it healthy, it is hard for an owner/landlord to have an objection. Suggest safe paint, safe cleaning products, HEPA air filters in the HVAC, steam cleaning, having the ducts professionally cleaned, installing tile or wood instead of carpet if flooring is going to be replaced, etc. Doing these things on the front end will help you by mitigating many indoor air quality issues before you move in and also will help the owner/landlord to market the home in the future as “allergy-friendly.” This is a growing market, so it behooves him/her to take that into consideration. Be prepared to be asked to foot the difference for some things, as they may cost more than standard rental procedure. Also, if they shut you down on this immediately, you know you need to move on.
3.) Has the home had any leaks, water damage, water intrusion, or mold? Just ask outright. This eliminates any doubts or wondering. Once the question is out there, the owner/landlord is required by law to tell you. Make sure to also tell them that you are highly allergic to mold, and you will get very sick if it is in the home. This gives the message, in no uncertain terms, that your body will know, if they do not tell you. It may sound over-the-top, but you have nothing to lose. I have done this myself. The owner actually told me about a very minor leak that was properly handled, but that might have been omitted from the conversation had I not been so upfront. Depending on their answer, you can decide whether further investigation or testing is necessary to find out if this is a mold-safe home for you or not. I would say that if the home has had water damage, you should also ask how that damage was handled or repaired. If there is no mention of remediation or addressing potential mold, you should move on. If there was mold in an HVAC system or a crawlspace or basement that communicated with the home via the HVAC system, even if it was remediated, unless the ducts were replaced, the home is not safe to live in, so move on.
4.) May I have the home inspected and/or tested for mold prior to occupancy? You may even just want to do this yourself with the EC3 plates or an Immunolytics test kit, but whether a professional does it or you do it, it NEEDS to get done and the landlord NEEDS to know you are doing it, because your health depends on it. If they have a problem with any kind of inspection or testing, then they don’t want to know what is there, because they don’t want to have to fix it. Wouldn’t you rather have this information on the front end BEFORE you move in and possibly get sick and have an issue? I would definitely prefer asking a difficult question over haven’t to face a combative situation later on.
If the landlord is amenable to your questions and suggestions, now you can move forward to create a timeline for inspections, mold testing, and work on the home.
Some things to keep in mind with your timeline:
1.) If you choose to hire a professional to test for mold, know how long it will take to get the lab results. If you are using EC3 plates, you will need at least 5 days to let the plates incubate from the day of testing. If you use Immunolytics tests, you will need a few weeks from the day of testing. I would call the lab to make sure your timeline fits with theirs.
2.) Make sure to have the HVAC on and running for at least an hour in the home prior to doing any air testing. Otherwise, you may not pick up mold in the HVAC system.
3.) Allow for 2-3 weeks, if possible, after any work is completed to allow for the off-gassing curing cycle. Even with no VOC paints and products, the home will off gas. If you are sensitive to this, realize that this time needs to be heeded before you move into the home.
4.) Have a contingency plan and an agreement with the landlord that you will move on, if things don’t work out with testing and/or inspections.
Getting Your New Home Ready and As Mold-Safe as Possible
Now you are ready to move in. Yay!
What things can you do when you arrive to make the temporary space even better for your health?
1.) Look for products with a long track record with the environmental illness and mold illness community. There are lots of forums and blogs out there to help you source everything you need. For example, the EC3 Products, or YOLO Colorhouse No VOC paint, or the Earthview Cleaning products.
2.) Bring only mold-free items into your new space. If you react to it, or it was in your moldy home, don’t contaminate your safe space with it.
3.) Invest in HEPA purification units and dehumidifiers. These are items that will do wonders for your air quality and that you can move with you when you leave.
4.) Cold Fog the entire home with EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. This will eliminate mold spores in the air and help your transition to be healthy. (You can also continue to fog once a week to keep mold levels down.)
So, there you have it! I tried to leave no stone unturned for you. But, as life goes, there has to be at least one or two questions, right? If you see something I’ve left out or have a question, please ask. Comment here on the blog or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.