Apartment and property managers and owners deal with a variety of maintenance and liability issues on a daily basis. While they know what to do in usual circumstances, they are often unaware of the liabilities they face, or even the proper procedures to follow, when a “more than just dirty” apartment falls into their hands.
Most property managers and owners will be faced with a contaminated apartment or house at some point in time. Violent crimes and unattended deaths happen everywhere – not just in high crime areas – and “pack rat” apartments can go unnoticed for years until the resident leaves. As such, it’s important to know the steps to take to limit liability and properly decontaminate these sites to restore them to a safe condition.
Apartments that are “more than just dirty” are potential health hazards, and can remain so even after the visible problems are gone. Violent crime and unattended death scenes can be teeming with bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Pack rat properties often contain hantavirus-infected rodent and human fecal matter along with other contaminants. None of this can be eliminated with standard cleaning processes and chemicals, and painting or dying only masks the problem.
Special training, equipment and procedures are required to ensure proper decontamination, and the individuals cleaning contaminated sites need protective equipment and precautionary medical treatments.
It is also just as important to clean the invisible hazards as it is to clean visible contaminates. Fluids must be extracted and disposed of appropriately to ensure the hazard is fully removed. Affected surfaces need to be disinfected with special chemicals; soap and water or regular-grade disinfectants are not suitable for these extra-ordinary situations.
More than Just Dirty
These not-so-ordinary situations can happen anywhere, anytime. In one case, no one was aware a resident had died until four weeks later when a neighboring resident complained about a foul odor. After authorities removed the decomposing body, the apartment manager was faced with a unit that was uninhabitable because of the biohazardous waste and odor left behind.
To restore the unit to safe and rentable condition, a team of specially trained professionals first needed to remove the dangerous materials, disposing of them through certified biohazardous waste processes. Floor tile was removed to decontaminate the sub-floor where body fluids had seeped through the bedding and into the grout below. Special extraction processes and disinfectants were used to clean and decontaminate surfaces
throughout the apartment, then professional-grade chemicals were used to eliminate the remaining odor.
In another case, an upscale apartment community was rocked by a multiple homicide. Once authorities released the crime scene, experts were called in to clean and decontaminate the apartment. In this instance, not only did the apartment, which was the primary crime scene, require special handling, but so did the area outside the unit where blood had seeped into the concrete.
In addition to standard liabilities issues related to maintenance, contaminated dwellings and surrounding areas are also potential safety violations with serious consequences. Property owners can be held liable if they put tenants and employees at risk by failing to take steps to safely eliminate hazards.
Liability also comes into play if an employee without the proper training and equipment is asked to decontaminate a site. In fact, doing so not only puts the employee and anyone coming into contact with the site at risk, but it is an OSHA violation that carries a hefty fine.
By ensuring that these properties are properly cleaned, managers and owners are protecting the health and safety of their tenants and employees, while also reducing the liabilities associated with these situations.