Airing out Concerns: Property Managers Can Protect Their Tenants from Illness and Business from Liability by Addressing Indoor Air Quality

By Naso, Markisan | Journal of Property Management, January-February 2007 | Go to article overview

Airing out Concerns: Property Managers Can Protect Their Tenants from Illness and Business from Liability by Addressing Indoor Air Quality


Naso, Markisan, Journal of Property Management


Poor indoor air quality is an ongoing concern for both real estate managers and their tenants. Air pollutants like mold spores, dust, radon, asbestos, bacteria and emissions from office furniture can greatly increase the risk of illness and impact the productivity of building occupants.

Should a resident get sick it can lead to liability issues for an owner or property manager. Glenn Fellman, executive director of the Indoor Air Quality Association in Rockville, Md., said this has been a major issue for the last 5 to 10 years.

"Not only does the property owner have the potential to lose the tenant but he could also face a lawsuit if a tenant can make a legitimate claim that the space is making them sick."

As a result, minimizing indoor air pollution requires proactive control and prevention on the part of management. Being reactive just isn't enough.

"If you are reacting to a problem because somebody's been sick, you've waited way too long to address indoor air quality."

SICK AND TIRED

Fellman said severe indoor air quality problems can potentially expose tenants to two types of illnesses--Sick Building Syndrome and Building Related Illness.

Productivity losses from Sick Building Syndrome are estimated to cost $50 billion annually, according to information from EHS Services Inc., an environmental, health, workplace safety, and quality management consulting firm.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Sick Building Syndrome occurs when a person is inside a building with poor air quality. Fellman said symptoms might include headache, a stuffy nose or some type of allergic reaction. The symptoms then cease shortly after leaving the building.

Building Related Illness happens when a person goes into a building, comes in contact with a contamination source that makes them sick and they stay sick even when they leave the building, Fellman said.

To prevent these illnesses, building owners and managers must be proactive--starting with keeping a building clean and dry. Many air quality issues stem from moisture or accumulations of dust and other types of contaminants.

Fellman said good housekeeping practices like using quality vacuum cleaners, wet mopping hard surface floors, dusting, selecting less toxic chemicals for cleaning and constantly keeping an eye out for moisture intrusion are vital to eliminating the sources of pollution and reducing emissions.

VENTING ONE'S PROBLEMS

While having a cleaning program in place to reduce airborne particles is important, maintaining the air conditioning system and changing air filters is equally important. Fellman said filter checks should be performed every month and replaced with quality, pleated filters. The system itself should be cleaned at least every 3 to 5 years.

Addressing the source of potential air quality problems is much more cost effective than applying cosmetic solutions and allowing a problem to spiral out of control, Fellman said. He said taking the extra step to fix a foundation or leaky pipe not only solves the problem but saves money. Mold is a good example, he said.

"[People] clean the mold and it comes back and they clean it and it comes back ... they never correct the structural engineering issue that's allowing moisture into the building that causes the mold to grow," he said.

Along with cleaning and repairs, making sure a building has adequate ventilation is also important.

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