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Protecting against liability for sick building syndrome.

Sick building syndrome is one of the most written about subjects in newspapers and magazines these days. Obviously anytime a lot of people are in a building without windows that can open and close there is the potential for them to become ill from pollutants and toxic substances trapped inside. However, the single biggest factor in eliminating such hazards is proper maintenance and getting proper legal advice.

Maintenance covers a whole host of different aspects of running a building. One of the best examples I have come across in my practice is the maintenance crew that thought that if one cleaning product worked well, five combined together would work five times as good. Needless to say, employees in the building who were exposed to this toxic brew became ill.

Building owners are the ones who are primarily responsible for overall building maintenance. Their approval is required before renovations are done and, thus, this is another area in which they can maintain their buildings. Many buildings, especially older ones, were not constructed with the idea in mind that virtually every tenant would be extensively renovating their space. Each renovation has the potential for introducing toxic substances into the heating, ventilating and air conditioning ducts and for changing air flow, since many tenants install auxiliary air conditioning systems. Landlords are in the best position to review such renovations and their overall impact on the building.

Buildings owners must properly train their staff and maintain their building systems. Even the best systems must be periodically cleaned and overhauled. Leaks must be attended to lest bacteria develop. Certainly any time there are complaints by tenants, they should be looked into.

The burden is not on landlords only. Tenants, especially large commercial ones, have potential liability to their employees and must scrutinize their renovations to ensure that they do not create any environmental problems. Many tenants fear that if they go too far in addressing environmental issues, they will only increase their potential liability. The issue of "how far is too far" should be addressed to legal counsel familiar with this area of the law. Sometimes this issue will arise in the context of a landlord-tenant lawsuit. A tenant may stop paying rent because of perceived problems. There may also be lawsuits by office employees and maintenance employees in the building. Landlords who ignore complaints and try to cut corners by not having environmental maintenance programs may pay for their shortsightedness down the road.

This is a highly specialized and rapidly evolving area of the law. Legal counsel should be carefully selected and frequently consulted concerning potential problems and their solution.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Legal Review
Author:Berger, C. Jaye
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 21, 1993
Previous Article:New perspective on rent regulation.
Next Article:NY Supreme Court upholds design-build contract.

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