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Airing out concerns: property managers can protect their tenants from illness and business from liability by addressing indoor air quality.

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."


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.


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.


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. Most home heating and cooling systems do not mechanically bring fresh air into a building, according to EPA information. Opening windows and doors, operating window or attic fans or running a window air conditioner with the vent control open increases the outdoor ventilation rate.


To ensure a building has adequate ventilation, experts are available to investigate and identify indoor air quality issues. Fellman said managers should seek out an industrial hygienist certified by the Industrial Hygiene Association or an indoor environmental consultant certified by the American Indoor Quality Council.

These consultants will perform a building assessment, produce a report identifying deficiencies in air quality and recommend steps managers can take to correct problems. A good, certified indoor environmental consultant not only tests the air or looks for mold, Fellman said, but really figures out what else is going on in a building.

Real estate managers should try and do the same. In many cases fixing an indoor environmental problem comes down to simple investigation.

"I spoke to a woman who crawled through a house from top to bottom and couldn't figure out what was making the homeowner feel sick until she started taking electrical readings," Fellman said. "She found out a surge suppressor connected to a computer that was letting off huge amounts of electromagnetic radiation in this woman's office. They turned the machine off and within a short period of time she felt better."

Fellman said more people are becoming aware of indoor air quality problems. He said property managers shouldn't panic if they have a contaminant problem. Finding the source of the problem and coming up with a plan of action will make all the difference.

"Just figure out why you got it and get rid of it," Fellman said. "[Indoor air quality problems] can be dealt with very promptly and very efficiently, and they can go away."

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RELATED ARTICLE: Source control

The EPA identifies three main sources of poor indoor air quality.

* Biological contaminants -- Excessive concentrations of fungi (molds), dust mite allergen, animal dander, pollen and bacteria that result from poor housekeeping, water spills, humidity or other pollutants brought indoors by occupants.

* Chemical pollutants -- Tobacco smoke, emissions from office equipment and furniture, wall and floor coverings, cleaning products, spilled chemicals and gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.

* Particles -- Solid or liquid substances that are light enough to be suspended in air. Some of the bigger particles may be visible in sunlight. Particles that can't be seen are more harmful. These particles may be drawn in from outside the building or produced inside as a result of activities such as smoking, sanding wood, drywalling, printing, copying and using other equipment.

Visit or for more information on indoor air quality. View IREM's public policy position on indoor air quality at IREM's briefing paper on indoor air quality is available at
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Title Annotation:ductape; Glenn Fellman of Indoor Air Quality Association
Author:Naso, Markisan
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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