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My wife and I moved into a new rental house two months ago. Our small dog, my wife, and myself have all started experiencing symptoms such as headaches, runny nose, constant congestion, cold-like swelling in the sinuses, neck, and throat, general head-cold-like symptoms, and allergies (dog sneezing included); the dog had exhibited very strange and constant anxiety, lack of appetite, and an erratic bathroom and feeding schedule (all of which were previously extremely predictable). All three of us have also experienced extremely erratic and poor-quality sleep.

We had not considered that the house was to blame until we left for a week-long vacation. The dog stayed with my parents; all of our problems were alleviated by the third day of being away from the home, and all of our problems returned within two days of being back in the home. This is what made us suspect the home or something inside it was the cause. Being sick or having symptoms of illness for nearly two solid months except the time we were away from our home for a period of days. My wife and I get sick very irregularly (my wife, for example, only twice in the last six years she has lived in this city), and none of us have any allergies, seasonal or otherwise.

Needless to say, it's quite frustrating and worrying.

I do not know what it is about the house that is causing these problems, but I would like to work with my property management company to get it fixed or to work out an exit from our lease and find a new place to live. How do I determine the problem? I called a general home inspector and their only suggestion was a mold and termite inspector. If it is not mold, what other possibilities are there, and is there a certain type of inspector or inspection I should look for to diagnose the cause of our health problems?

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Might want to talk to your doctor about this too, some toxins might show up in blood/urine tests (lead and other metals). –  Steven May 28 at 0:15
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You can get off-the-shelf mold and water testing kits from Home Depot and the like. Might as well pick up a Radon tester as well (though Radon isn't causing your current systems). –  DA01 May 28 at 1:13
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Check the police reports to see if any meth cooking was done in this house. –  Fiasco Labs May 28 at 3:08

3 Answers 3

There could be several factors that may be contributing to the situation. It sounds like an air quality problem. This could be caused by airborne mold spores, chemical contamination from bad paint or flooring adhesives (VOC's) etc. , CO from a malfunctioning heating or A/C unit or something from outside getting in. I have had to address this problem with some customers in the past. We contracted an air quality testing from a local environmental testing lab. In your case, I would first consult with the management of the property. Explain the situation, confirm your conversations in writing, (document, document, document) and see if they will contract this service. If they won't for some reason, then I would have it done privately. Depending on the results and plan for mitigation, these costs should be reimbursed by the landlord. At minimum, it would give just cause to break the lease. If the results are bad and the management won't work with you, share the results with your local code enforcement office as they may help you and require the management to fix the problem. Once the type of irritant is identified, then the cause will be much easier to find. Good Luck.

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Having spent last summer living in a black mold infested rental house, I am extremely suspicious you have a mold problem in that house, probably a very toxic one, and should focus your energy on that before looking into other causes.

Your symptoms are mold-exposure symptoms to a T. I thought it was just a coincidence or moving stress that I got a cold the day after we moved in. It really wasn't, and the ongoing health problems only get worse. Anyway, you can do your research online about the symptoms of black mold exposure if you want, I'm sure you'll be like "wow, yeah, I didn't realize I was feeling that symptom too, but now that you mention it..."

First, I would contact a lawyer to discuss your situation. There's a good chance you are going to need one. Leases are legal documents. And quite frankly, the kinds of landlords who ignore water leak problems long enough for black mold to develop are often the kind who are unwilling to actually fix the problem adequately, and/or willing to hire sleazy contractors who will lie and say they see no evidence of mold, so there's a good chance of needing to take the landlord to court and/or break your lease. The lawyer we contacted gave us free advice before we moved out about what sort of evidence to gather and so on, and then took our case on contingency, so it didn't cost us anything up front. Where we live, undisclosed mold is a legal reason to vacate without notice--but that's why you might want to talk to a lawyer to make sure that is the case in your area as well, but the legal issues are probably outside the scope of this site ;-)

Secondly, get some mold testing done. We found the home test kit we got at home depot worked accurately. However, if you end up having to go to court over the mold issue, having a professional mold inspector do their own testing on your behalf is helpful, because they can give their unbiased testimony in court, whereas you certainly are biased and they can't prove or verify you actually tested where you said you did. In particular, I would focus your test kits on places near water--under the sinks, bathroom floors, anywhere where there's stains or discoloration on the walls or flooring as well as places where the floor seems soft, soggy, warped, etc. Your lawyer may be able to advise a reputable testing company should you run into problems finding one willing to test a rental property (we had issues with that...). If you aren't confident that there is a mold problem, you could do the inexpensive home test kit, and then decide whether or not to seek more expensive professional testing based on the results of the home test kit.

Third, get out! As fast as you can. Don't wait around for the landlord to fix the problem. It probably goes deeper than you realize, and will take more time and effort to fix than you're going to want to put up with.

In our case, the shower was leaking. And the kitchen sink. The other sinks and tubs may or may not have had leaks in the past, but they weren't leaking when we moved in. It takes multiple months of continuous water issues to go from harmless molds to the kind that release toxins into the air. The first sign we saw of a problem was stains on the wood flooring in the room opposite the shower, and then a soggy spot on the floor. And the lower kitchen cabinets had a horrible odor that I couldn't identify the source of. (definitely look for any/all of those signs) But after everything unraveled and we had the professional mold tester come out and the previous tenant showed up at our doorstep while we loaded our moving van, we realized the mold, being airborne, has made it's way into the HVAC system, and anytime you turn on the heater or air-conditioner, you're blowing mold spores all over the house, the landlord had painted over the mold on the walls before we moved in to disguise it, etc. The wall facing the shower had mold "spider-webs" covering the entire sheetrock on the side hidden inside the wall. We certainly couldn't have seen that when we moved in, but when the landlord cut a hold in the wall to make sure the shower valves weren't "still" leaking, it became immediately apparent there was mold. Not only that, within two days we were all experiencing exposure symptoms severe enough we decided to immediately go stay in a hotel until we could find a new place to live. Should you decide to cut holes in the wall to look for mold (I don't recommend it), I would wait until after you move out, and wear a respirator and gloves.

to properly remove mold, any affected sheetrock, flooring, cabinets, or other organic material that can harbor spores need to be removed, as well as leaking pipes fixed and so on. But before doing so, a negative pressure system needs to be set up so that any mold that becomes air-borne is blown outdoors a fan instead of blowing into the rest of the house. Your landlord should NOT hire some random contractor to do the work, they should hire someone specifically experienced with mold-removal, preferably with certifications to that effect, mold is not something to mess around with, you don't want to leave part of the problem by mistake ;-).

If your landlord's homeowners insurance covers mold and/or water damage, there's a chance the whole removal and repair would be handled by the insurance company. But to be honest, I wouldn't stick around in a rental long enough to get the landlord to clean up the mold. If it's making you as sick as you describe, it's probably not going to be a trivial renovation needed to actually fix it to the point of habitability. Plus, medically, you are sensitized to mold now, and will be more bothered by any residual mold than someone without mold exposure history.

Decontaminating your belongings, even after you move out, is not a completely trivial matter either. Vacuum everything with a HEPA vacuum. Vacuum your floors every day if you can. Wash every single article of clothing, sheets, etc. Wash with soap and water all the kitchenware. unfinished wood furniture may require using an EPA registered mold-icide to kill or remove the hyphae (mold "roots") in the wood. Throw away your pillows, all of them, get new ones. Don't mess around with that one. While they are washable, the puffy interior can harbor spores and toxins and they don't always wash out in the washing machine...and you put your face on it for 8 hours a day. I'm sorry you're going through this, I wish you the best of luck.

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I have to add that besure you check and replace your furnace filter regularly, if your house uses forced air. There are horror stories out there. If it's never been replaced, that's worse than not replacing it at all. I usually come off the dime and get a MERV 9 or 10 rated filter, and (try) to replace them every couple of months, even though some of them recommend every month replacement, it really depends on how often the furnace/AC is used, but the higher rated filters filter more particles, thus(in theory) need to be replaced at a higher rate.

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