Apartment hunting with a mold allergy (Chicago)
September 16, 2012 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I have a rather serious mold allergy. How should I go about finding a mold-free (or almost mold-free) apartment in Chicago?

My allergy is bad enough that levels of mold that might be tolerable to other people make me cough, sneeze, wheeze, get itchy eyes, itchy throat, etc. after 30-60 minutes. Unfortunately, this is not so immediate that I can just detect whether a place is livable from a 10 minute viewing.

I suspect that telling prospective landlords about my allergy in initial Craigslist emails may be scaring them off/making them believe I'm a pain in the ass, even if the advertised apartment doesn't have any mold issues. Should I wait for a phone call? Or maybe the actual viewing, because they've already invested some time, and it's harder to lie to someone if you're looking them in the eye? (Man, these mental games...)

Everywhere I've ever lived has had air conditioning, with the exception of my college dorms (but for some reason they were all fine). Is A/C something I need to make essential in my search? (I'd rather not, but I guess that's life.) Should I be searching for newer buildings, and if so, how? Craigslist postings almost never list the age of the building.

If it matters, I'm looking to live on the North side of Chicago, along the red line (or brown or blue). Before I realized this truly is a dealbreaker, I was mostly looking at places in the $550-$700 range in Rogers Park, Edgewater, and comparable nearby neighborhoods. Is that budget unrealistic if you really can't deal with mold? $850 is my ABSOLUTE max including heat, and I'd really rather not pay that much. But maybe that's unavoidable? Are there other neighborhoods I should consider? Keep in mind that I'm female and small so safety's a major concern.

Finally: would using any of these apartment services be a reasonable solution?

For those of you who saw my previous question, yes, the apartment had hidden mold, but luckily the manager let me out of the lease.
posted by randomname25 to Home & Garden (3 answers total)
My only suggestion is to look at new construction. Realtors in Chicago do rentals so you might contact one or check the Chicago MLS for new buildings.
posted by shoesietart at 12:16 PM on September 16, 2012

Best answer: Hello! I do mold inspections for work sometimes. I actually wouldn't screen by the age of the apartment. The maintenance status and specific apartment features are much more important. (For reference, I have massive allergies, including mold allergies, and live in a building that's pre-1900s that meets every criteria I'm about to name, or at least it did until the shower surround caulking sprang a leak earlier this year... ah well.) The things I would suggest looking for (first in the rental ads, and then in the actual visits):

-Hardwood floors. Absolutely no carpet, anywhere in the apartment. This is 100% non-negotiable. This is what you screen the Craigslist listings for. (Porcelain floor tile is also OK. Stick-on or roll sheet flooring are OK-ish, but hardwood is better.)

-No central air/HVAC. A window AC unit (or place that lets you install a window AC unit) would be OK, but I would suggest avoiding places with central air. Ideally, you also want radiators for heating (or maybe baseboard heat, but electric heat is generally on the tenant and would be hella expensive in Chicago, so ideally, I'd go radiator). The advantage of the radiator and window AC is that you don't have air entering your apartment from another space you don't have control over. Water can build up in HVAC boxes etc. and lead to mold issues, which then enter your space with the airflow from the central air vents. (To be honest, I haven't seen the exterior air units much in the Midwest, but they're very common at apartment complexes down south and they're always an issue.)

-A working vent fan in the bathroom. This is also very important, and you should plan on getting in the habit of using it -- venting humidity is a really good way to cut down on mold and mildew growth. These are required in many jurisdictions, but you should confirm the fan actually works.

-No signs of water damage whatsoever. Check around plumbing fixtures, under sinks, and (especially) under windows and any HVAC units (window or central). Check ceilings. Any sign of water damage should be grounds for not renting the apartment. It might not be mold (yet), but it's a sign of poor maintenance, especially in a unit they're trying to re-rent.

-No basement or partially subgrade units. (Obvious, but worth saying.)

-A kitchen exhaust fan is a generally good thing to have (and use) if you have allergies, although it's not a requirement.

-If you can talk to a potential neighbor and confirm that the management is responsive about fixing things, that's a good sign. You want management that will fix water leaks before they turn into mold issues.

Good luck!
posted by pie ninja at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and I should add that the one era of housing you do want to avoid (if possible) is 1980s-1990s. Housing in this era was frequently built so air-tight that the house will actually hold in any moisture, where a nice drafty Victorian won't. Bad for heating bills, but good for cutting down on mold growth. (It's also really rare to find housing from this era without carpet, so you'll probably be ruling these out already.)
posted by pie ninja at 5:07 PM on September 16, 2012

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