I just got a notice that there are chemicals in my apartment building that have been known to cause cancer. Shouldn’t my landlord have to get rid of them? I mean, that’s a serious health risk, and I’d think it would mean it’s not safe for people to live here. I’ve never seen anything like this before and I don’t know what my rights are or what I can do about it.
Full Question and Answer
Take a deep breath. Generally speaking, just because you’ve received such a notice doesn’t mean that you’re at immediate risk of getting cancer, or that your apartment isn’t safe to live in. In some situations, courts in states such as New York have concluded that the presence of carcinogens represents a violation of something called the implied warranty of habitability, which means your landlord is responsible for paying you damages and fixing the problem if he wants to keep collecting rent from you.
Indoor exposure to radon gas is the second biggest cause of lung cancer in the United States—but only two states, Maine and Illinois, require landlords to test radon levels specifically and disclose those test results to tenants.
In 1986, California voters passed Proposition 65, which requires landlords to notify tenants if chemicals that cause cancer are present on or near the property beyond a specified amount. The state keeps a list of more than 800 chemicals, and if you may be exposed to one or more of them while on the property, your landlord must warn you of that fact. Additionally, many landlords provide warnings even if the chemicals aren’t actually present, or only exist in trace amounts, as a way to ward off lawsuits.
Second-hand smoke is a common carcinogen, and many landlords have created non-smoking policies on their property to avoid liability. In California, Prop 65 warnings often include tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust, since both are listed as toxic by the state and are frequently found in residential areas. Utah law considers second-hand smoke a nuisance, and renters in that state can sue landlords if their neighbor’s smoke gets into their unit.
While federal law requires landlords to notify tenants about the presence of lead paint in buildings, state laws require additional notices of a lot of different materials known to be potential threats to your health and safety. Though some cases these defects must be fixed, usually the law merely requires the landlord to notify you of the possible risk.
In short, you’ll more than likely be just fine.