For many Americans, renting makes financial and logistical sense. Renting offers flexibility that buying a home doesn’t; when people rent, they can easily relocate for work or move into a larger space as their family changes and grows. Renting can also be ideal for people who are trying to explore different areas in order to determine just where they would like to live and settle down. Plus, renting offers many financial benefits, since it doesn’t require the substantial down payment or long-term upkeep costs that come with homeownership.
But renting isn’t always the ideal situation that it appears to be. While many choose to rent because of its affordability and convenience, housing can have a direct effect on health. Renters need to be vigilant about their living situations and unfortunately, with the convenience of renting, renters make sacrifices in terms of their control over the safety of their living situations.
Renting and Finances
Renting popularity is steadily increasing and is mostly prompted by finances. While the economy has recovered from the 2008 recession and housing crisis, many people still do not have the savings accumulated to purchase a home. This has contributed to the fact that family rental rates are currently higher than they have ever been in the past 50 years.
Even though renting may be more affordable and practical than buying a home, the high cost of renting still creates a significant burden. According to the 2019 County Health Rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, over 800,000, or 11%, of American households spend at least half of their income on housing costs. Additionally, residents in communities that have high housing costs report that their health is lower than those in communities with lower housing costs.
These high housing costs affect renters more significantly than they affect homeowners; renters are more likely to spend over half of their income on rent than homeowners are to spend that same amount on housing costs. In 2015, households that were financially burdened by the cost of housing spent 53% less on essentials like healthcare and food when compared to households whose housing costs were less than half of their income. Renters trying to afford to pay rent often spend less on or don’t buy food, which can contribute to health issues like nutritional deficiency and obesity.
Common Environmental Risks with Renting
Rental property owners don’t always maintain rentals appropriately, and renters may encounter many environmental health risks. Some of the most common housing problems are identified as:
- Signs of mice, rats, or cockroaches
- Water leakage in the interior or exterior
- Open cracks or holes in the building
- Uncomfortably cold temperatures for 24 hours or more during the winter
- Exposed wiring
- Broken plaster or peeling paint
All of these issues can pose health risks, especially when families include children. Lead paint, poor air quality, and poor water quality are also common environmental issues that renters can face. Many of these issues are difficult to remedy, and renters may have little control over the quality of their environment or of these hidden dangers. An uncooperative property owner can allow issues to go on for weeks or months without correction, sometimes requiring families to pursue the issue in court to get a problem fixed.
Asbestos is another concern for renters. Because asbestos was frequently used in the 1930s through the 1980s, families who rent older properties may unknowingly be exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is generally only a health threat when it’s disturbed through construction, but families need to be aware of this potential issue before doing any work on a property. While a reputable construction company will require testing before doing work, if a property owner hires a handyman or underqualified help that foregoes asbestos testing, families in the rental could be exposed to asbestos.
The Stress of Renting
The housing market is far from perfect in the United States, and though many families depend on rental properties for housing, finding and keeping affordable opportunities is a challenge. With gentrification driving up rents, the families who need affordable rentals the most are competing for fewer and fewer affordable housing opportunities, and the quality of those lower-income rentals is also deteriorating.
Low-income families and single parents face unique challenges in finding housing. The difficulty of finding affordable housing can create significant stress and these at-risk families frequently face eviction. With programs like Section 8 housing carrying waiting lists, renting becomes an unstable, high-stress prospect, rather than offering the sense of stability that housing should provide. Long-term stress can lead to health issues like depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, and more. It can also take a toll on the health of children living in situations where renting is uncertain and unstable.
A housing revolution that prioritizes quality, affordable rental properties could change this for the better. While renting may offer appealing advantages to many families, it carries health risks, too. If families have a larger rental budget and a larger selection of properties to choose from, they’ll be better able to find a property with no or minimal health risks.
Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn't frantically updating his news feeds, Noah likes to shut off his devices, head to the beach and read detective novels from the 1930s.