Substandard housing is a growing issue. It’s estimated that 330 million urban households worldwide live in substandard housing. In the United States alone there are about six million homes and apartment buildings listed as substandard, and the problem isn’t going away any time soon.
Under the law, landlords have to meet state and local standards for rental property maintenance. A “warranty of habitability” means that the property meets expectations for residency and won’t jeopardize the health or safety of tenants.
Housing that doesn’t meet these requirements is considered substandard. This doesn’t mean that the property is just unattractive or outdated. Substandard housing poses a risk to the health, safety or physical well-being of its occupants, neighbors, or anyone who visits. It increases the risk of disease and crime, among other things.
What creates substandard housing? Landlords who don’t maintain their property.
What Makes Housing Substandard?
Physical deterioration is a big contributor and a tip-off to substandard housing. An apartment building may need a new roof – when it rains, the roof may leak or even cave in, causing a flood or injury to the residents. And flooding causes further hazards, including potential disease-causing organisms and molds.
Broken and missing windows also pose a hazard. Other harmful things aren’t as easy to spot. Outdated or dangerous electrical systems, rusting or loose pipes and gas leaks are safety hazards that can go unnoticed until an accident happens.
State law and local zoning requirements require that all houses and apartments are safe for their occupants and those in the surrounding area. This means a property must meet local building codes and the owner must address any serious problems.
Things like mold, rotting floors, rodents, gas leaks or insect infestations pose health risks and make a property substandard. Other issues, like stained carpet, dirty grout, and peeling paint are unattractive, but they don't necessarily make a place substandard or uninhabitable.
Substandard Housing Hurts the Entire Community
Substandard housing contributes to health problems like chronic diseases and injuries, and often has harmful effects on childhood development because of poor indoor air quality, lead paint, and other hazards.
The usual features of substandard housing include lack of safe drinking water, lack of hot water, ineffective waste disposal, intrusion by disease-carrying insects and rats, and no good way to store food. All of these characteristics have been identified as contributing to the spread of infectious diseases.
In fact, in households with poor housing conditions, there was a 50% higher risk of getting COVID-19.
Crowded living conditions – which often go hand-in-hand with inadequate housing – is also associated with an increase of tuberculosis and respiratory infections. These types of infections can easily be spread, which means substandard housing doesn’t just affect the person living in it – it affects the entire community.
Also, research shows that neighborhoods with more physical problems – abandoned buildings, trash, and decaying buildings – have higher levels of many types of social problems. Substandard housing also affects nearby property values.
People living in neighborhoods that are filled with substandard, vacant or abandoned properties suffer from higher rates of mental distress, chronic illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases, and unhealthy habits. The broken window theory posits that these properties “create a climate of social and psychological disorder that attracts criminal activity and violence and becomes a breeding ground for vermin.”
Many of these substandard properties are in low-income neighborhoods, which means they have lower social capital – it’s difficult for these community members to advocate for their neighborhood. It’s a vicious cycle – buildings that aren’t cared for makes many neighborhoods unattractive, which means less investment in the community.
Additionally, crimes that occur on or around substandard property encourages a feeling of helplessness that leads residents to live increasingly isolated lives, which makes them less likely to step in to help prevent crime.
As a statement by the U.S. surgeon general says: “The concept of healthy homes extends beyond the four walls of a dwelling to its surroundings – to the land immediately around the house, to adjacent structures and amenities and to the neighborhood setting. A house does not exist in isolation.”
Help is at Hand From Griswold Law
If you find yourself in a neighborhood that is experiencing this problem, the professionals at Griswold Law can help guide you on how to legally resolve the issue. Specializing in the health and safety receivership remedy, Griswold Law knows the ins and outs of working with local code enforcement teams to deal with substandard housing problems. Contact one of our professionals today to discuss your concerns.