Learn More: What Other Cities Are Doing

mold1Thousands of calls to MTO’s hotline are about building conditions – especially mold.  Mold only needs water and a surface to grow on.  Bad plumbing, structural deficiencies and water damage from flooding causes mold to thrive in buildings.

New York City Council just passed a mold-resistant building law that requires the use of mold-resistant building materials in areas that are prone to water damage and moisture issues. This is a huge step in the right direction towards recognizing and preventing the harmful effects of mold in the home and to a person’s health.  People with asthma are especially impacted by mold – since it is a major asthma trigger.

We applaud NYC Council in their decision and hope that cities like Chicago follow their lead. Join the fight for quality rental housing – Support the Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program (CHHIP)! Read more about mold and the new NYC law.

Cities across the country are adopting or have in place–proactive, systematic rental housing inspection programs to preserve housing stock and protect renters.  Those cities include:

Sign the CHHIP Petition


If you are having Healthy Homes issues in your apartment, contact MTO’s Hotline for assistance at 773-292-4988, or notify your landlord directly online at Squared Away Chicago.  

If you would like to join the CHHIP campaign, contact Sheila at 773-292-4980 ext 231, or via email at sheilas@tenants-rights.org.

How to Guide for Clean-Up of Flooded Homes

From the National Center for Healthy Housing:

A guide developed to help homeowners and contractors safely clean up homes damaged in the recent floods caused by Hurricane Irene is available immediately. Creating a Healthy Home: A Field Guide for Clean-up of Flooded Homes is a do-it-yourself booklet that provides easy, step-by-step instructions on how to handle mold removal in flooded homes before starting to rebuild or renovate. Agencies working directly with individuals impacted by the floods can also order a shipment of printed booklets to distribute to those needing assistance. Please call the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) at 877.312.3046 for more information.

A weekend of heavy rain has brought flooding problems to communities all along the East Coast of the United States. Officials in Vermont are calling it the worst storm since 1927. Many homes have already endured extensive damage and required evacuation; and in many places the water is still on the rise.

“Our hearts go out to the families dealing with the loss of lives and homes caused by this Hurricane Irene. Recovering from a flood can be overwhelming. We hope this guide will help families reduce the damage to their homes and prevent mold growth” said Rebecca Morley, Executive Director of NCHH, based in Columbia, MD. “Mold exposure may cause allergic reactions, such as asthma attacks, sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Even dead mold spores pose a risk, especially for children and adults with respiratory problems,” said Morley.

In 2005, NCHH researched and wrote the guide with funding and technical support from Enterprise Community Partners, a leading national community development organization. The instructional guide documents a protocol that was tested on four homes in New Orleans following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In a home that experienced at least five feet of standing water for at least two weeks and had mold growth up to the ceiling, the protocol reduced the mold to non-detectable levels.

Acting quickly and removing standing water and water-damaged materials within the first 48 hours is critical for preventing mold growth. NCHH recommends the following steps for cleaning up flooded homes.

  • Remove standing water and dry out the building as soon as you can. Open doors and windows. Mop up or pump out any standing water.
  • Use a mild detergent and water to clean and remove mold from hard surfaces.
  • Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture after cleaning. Be careful not to blow mold around while drying—point fans to blow outside.
  • Throw away moldy things that can not be cleaned, such as carpets and carpet padding, upholstered furniture, drywall, wood molding, fiberglass or cellulose insulation, and ceiling tiles.
  • If there is more than 10 square feet (about 3 ft. X 3 ft.) of mold in your house, consider using a professional mold clean-up contractor. Do not hire a contractor who recommends fogging or spraying as a way to clean up mold. Moldy materials must be removed from the building.
  • Wipe dry or allow all surfaces to fully air-dry before doing any more work. Make sure that the home is allowed to completely dry before beginning restoration.
  • Additionally, to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, residents are reminded not to operate generators within buildings. In the case of power outages, generators should only be operated outside of an enclosed space.

National housing organizations Enterprise Community Partners, NCHH, and NeighborWorks®America partnered with NeighborWorks Organization and Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans to develop the clean-up protocols. Columbia University and Tulane University provided expertise for the demonstration project. The guide was developed through the generous support of The Home Depot Foundation.

Radon – FAQ

What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, dense, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally in soil.

How does radon get into homes?
Radon gas forms naturally in the soil in the Midwest. When the gas is produced, it simply rises up through the ground and is released into the natural environment.
However, when homes are built in or on soil emitting radon, instead of the gas rising up through dense soil, radon gas chooses the path of least resistance – normally through the floors or wall of the first level of the home – the basement. Depending on how the home was built and how ventilated the basement is, levels of radon can fluctuate.

Why is radon dangerous to human beings?
Radon has been classified as carcinogenic by the US EPA. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer – first being smoking. People who are exposed to both radon gas and smoke (first or second-hand) have a multipled risk of developing lung cancer.
Most radon-induced lung cancers occur from low and medium dose exposures in people’s homes.

Why are basements the most likely place to find radon gas? Why not in my second floor apartment?
Radon gas comes from decay of radioactive substances that are ubiquitous in the Midwestern soil. Because basements and first floor units are most often the first point of contact between soil (the source of radon gas) and the building, this is where radon normally enters the building.
Radon gas is also far more dense than “air.” Helium is lighter and less dense than air and therefore balloons filled with it fly away and up into the sky if not held down. Radon is heavier than air. For that reason, it sinks below lighter “air” to remain in our basements and lower level units. The more time someone spends in a unit/basement that has radon gas, the more exposure that person receives.

How do I know if my family and I are being exposed to radon gas?
If you live in the basement or first floor of a building, it is likely that you are being exposed to radon gas. The risk goes up if the building was poorly built, is poorly maintained and/or is poorly ventilated. There is no safe level of radon but minimizing exposure can reduce you and your family’s risk of lung cancer.
If you live in a second floor unit or higher, it is unlikely that you and your family are being exposed to significant levels of radon in your home.
The only way to know for sure is to test your living space(s).

Is there a test for radon?
Yes. Tenants, landlords, and homeowners have an easy and affordable option to test the level of radon in their home. Air Chek Inc. has sold over 4,000,000 radon tests worldwide. The Illinois Department of Public Health referrals for the test kit get the customer a major discount, which normally costs $14.95.
Those interested in purchasing the radon test can access the discount by phone, online, or through the mail. With the discount, each kit is $6.95. Call 800.247.2435 and ask for the Illinois discount or go online to il.radon.com for online or mailing instructions. Each test kit ordered includes the testing kit itself, testing instructions, shipping to and back, cost of lab work and reporting of results to you.

Asthma – FAQ

Child properly using asthma inhaler and spacer.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that makes it very difficult to breathe. The small and medium airways swell and fill with mucus when they come into contact with certain environmental allergens. In some cases asthma can cause death. Asthma cannot be cured but it can be controlled through medications and cleaning up your environment.

What allergens found in the home can cause asthma?
Dust mites are a common allergen that can trigger an asthma attack. Dust mites can be found in carpets, drapes, overstuffed furniture and bedding and the result of poor air sealing of windows and doors can allow outside dust into the home.
Other common household hazards that can trigger asthma attacks are:
* Leaking plumbing and roofs; water damaged areas
* Poor ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens
* Basements and crawlspaces without proper drainage or moisture control
* Infestations of cockroaches, mice and rats can cause allergic reactions
* Extreme temperature shifts, either hot or cold, can trigger asthma attacks

Many of these conditions are violations of the building code. Learn how to enforce your right to a healthier home here.

Does the landlord have to provide heat and air-conditioning if I have asthma?
The landlord must provide heat from heat September 15 – June 1. The landlord must maintain the following minimum temperatures:
68 degrees from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm
66 degrees from 10:30 pm – 8:30 am
The landlord is not required to provide air-conditioning.

Learn more about Healthy Home Healthy Child: The Westside Children’s Asthma Partnership

Indoor Air Quality & Smoking

The new Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance was signed into law on Feb. 13, 2008 and supersedes the Smoke Free Illinois Act. The new law is intended to protect patrons and workers against the dangers of secondhand smoke.

As of February 13, 2008 smoking is prohibited in:

  • All enclosed workplaces;
  • All restaurants;
  • All bars;
  • All healthcare facilities;
  • Public places including government buildings, convention facilities, laundromats, public transportation facilities and shopping malls;
  • Public restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, hallways and other common use areas in public buildings, apartment buildings and condominium buildings;
  • Within 15 feet of the entrance to enclosed public places;
  • Recreational areas including enclosed sports arenas, stadiums, swimming pools, ice and roller rinks, arcades and bowling alleys; and
  • City government vehicles.

Regulations, Fines & Fees

The Department of Public Health and the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing will monitor compliance with the ordinance during routine inspections. The City will also respond to complaints made to 311. Individuals who are smoking in areas prohibited by the ordinance are guilty of an infraction punishable by fines of up to $250.

More About the New Ordinance

The updated Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance was passed by the Chicago City Council in January 2008. It replaces current law, passed in December 2005 and supersedes the Smoke Free Illinois Act. The new law is intended to protect the health of patrons and workers against the dangers of tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer and heart disease, and “safe” levels of secondhand smoke have not been identified.

Full Text of the Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance of 2008

Mold – FAQ

You may not see mold, but you may smell something like this in the basement.

How do I know if I have mold in my apartment?
The basic rule is “if you can see mold or smell mold, you have mold.” There are no fancy tests needed to tell you what kind of mold you have. Any mold in your home or apartment is bad mold.

Can I withhold rent or use my rent to fix a mold problem?
Yes. See “Apartment Repairs and Conditions.” Mold grows on wet or damp surfaces. If mold exists in your apartment, it is important to fix any moisture problem first. Painting over mold does not get rid of the problem. Only after the moisture problem is fixed, should you paint.

Those black spots on the window sill are mold, most likely caused by condensation and old, drafty windows. The moisture problem on the windows at this home also loosened up so much paint that the child living here became lead poisoned.

Is my landlord responsible if my property is damaged by mold?
If you believe your property was damaged as a result of the negligence of the landlord, make a detailed list of all the property damaged and send the list to the landlord asking for compensation. If the landlord refuses to pay you will need to contact an attorney.