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Check rental for mold, mildew

People afflicted with allergies are at risk for a number of illnesses.

By BRANDI A. GROSS, Neighborhood News Bureau
Published August 14, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Jodie Baker, 25, struggles to tend for her ill son while her other two sick children beg for attention at her feet.

"They have had some kind of ongoing stomach virus that has come and gone for the past three months, vomiting and fevers," she said.

Baker said her children started getting sick about two weeks after she moved into her new Midtown apartment. "All three of my children are asthmatic," Baker said. "I've had them out of day care for three weeks."

While their ailments might not be directly attributable to possible unhealthful conditions in the apartment, renters should be aware of possible health hazards that can come with new leases, said Jeannine Mallory, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Health Department.

Renters should be extra cautious before signing a lease because they do not benefit from home inspections like potential homeowners do.

"Mold and dust and mildew are really big allergy and asthma triggers," Mallory said. "You can inspect the property before you move in."

The Pinellas County Health Department recommends checking a property thoroughly before moving in for broken gutters and cracks or holes in the walls. Look at areas where mold could grow.

While inside the dwelling, do a "sniff test." If you detect a "dirty socks" smell or musty odor, this might be a sign of mold. If the air handler is inside the house or apartment, look at the cooling coils, which are just behind the filter. The coils look something like a car radiator with fins. If there is material between the fins, it could be mold.

The Health Department also suggests looking at the ceilings and walls in bathrooms and utility closets for any recent patches.

This could be an indication of a leak. Look for stains in ceilings and walls. Check for tight-fitting windows and doors. Also, inspect for cracked tile grout around showers and tubs. If there are cracks, water can leak inside the wall and cause mold growth.

If a renter suspects mold after moving in, the Pinellas County Health Department can perform an inspection for $75.

Mold is not the only concern.

Renters looking to lease a home built before 1978 should ask if there is any lead paint remaining, said Nena Gang, executive vice president of the Bay Area Apartment Association.

Landlords who own these older properties are required by law to give the client a form detailing the status of lead paint.

Renters often find they need to rent apartments quickly. But taking the time to check for signs of trouble before moving in could greatly reduce future problems.

Baker said she wished she had known that months ago.

Brandi A. Gross is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. She can be reached at (727) 327-2129.

[Last modified August 13, 2007, 20:01:56]

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