Got Asthma? Maybe Blame Your Landlord

New York City forces landlords to improve conditions that cause asthmaNew York City is fighting asthma in a new way: by forcing 175 slumlords to clean up their act.

The City Council is focusing on the worst landlord offenders. These are the slumlords who do not fix conditions such as mold, vermin, insect infestation, and garbage. All of these unsanitary conditions are contributing factors that worsen asthma rates in the most poverty-stricken areas of the city.

Why the hubbub? Because asthma adversely affects the health of up to 400,000 children in the city, reports The New York Times. And asthma can have a domino effect on individual health as well as collective economic growth.

Asthma rates have grown by more than 160% from 1980-1994, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Asthmatic children become adults with greater chances of adverse health conditions, such as obesity, reports Yale University. Obesity, in turn, increases risk of multiple health conditions and reduced economic productivity, via work absenteeism.

So yes, forcing landlords to clear the air means longterm economic advantages for the city, too.

Landlords better get their act together so all renters can benefit from more sanitary conditions and better health. They've been given three months to make necessary cleanups. If they do not comply within this time, the city will file liens against the landlords, effectively billing the landlords for not maintaining their property. If necessary the city will step in, make sanitary changes to the building, and send the landlord a fat bill for the taxpayers' outlay.

(Hitting a landlord where it hurts -- in his pocket -- might be more effective than a Richmond, Va. order that forced slumlord Oliver C. Lawrence to live in his unsanitary rental.)

The city's efforts are considered a pilot program because it will only last 18 months. Each building will be monitored, effectively acting as a public health experiment. For example, is it more effective to replace faulty pipes to prevent mold or use bleach to kill mold if your goal is to prevent or alleviate asthma? Researchers will evaluate all the collected data.

As City Council member Christine C. Quinn told The Times, "Not every landlord is a good landlord in the city of New York. We need to have stricter laws to deal with those bad apples."

Spokesman Frank Ricci of the Rent Stabilization Association, one of the city's largest landlord groups, told the newspaper that his group was reviewing the bill, and observed that tenants, too, are responsible for the sanitation of their apartments.

"It's not always the owner being a bad guy," he said. "Sometimes they have tenants who don't cooperate."

Landlords better watch out, though. The asthma program goes into effect this week.

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez summed it up: "If you are a landlord that takes good care of your building, you have nothing to worry about."

Breathe easy, New York. We hope other cities follow your lead.
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