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Department of Health Services

Environmental Health

Healthy Homes Program


What Is a Healthy Home?

The "Healthy Homes" model promoted by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) is a concept that promotes safe, decent, and sanitary housing as a means for preventing disease and injury.

According to the NCHH, "a healthy home is designed, constructed, maintained, or rehabilitated in a manner that supports the health of residents. A growing body of evidence links housing conditions to health outcomes such as asthma, lead poisoning, lung cancer, and unintentional injuries." The "Healthy Homes" model is based on the Seven Principles of Healthy Housing, which are to keep a home:

  • Dry
  • Clean
  • Pest-Free
  • Ventilated
  • Safe
  • Contaminant-Free
  • Maintained


Inquiries about Non-Healthy Home Issues and Code Enforcement

Environmental Health receives numerous inquiries from the public regarding non-healthy home issues (substandard housing conditions or housing complaints) in residential living units. Typical inquiries from citizens may include:

  • Pests infestation (rodents, rats, vermin, cockroaches, flies, etc.)
  • Water leaks (intrusion) which may support mold growth
  • Structural damage
  • Electrical hazards
  • Poor air quality (off gassing from paint, carpet, flooring, furniture, gas, outdoor pollution)
  • Accumulation of trash and debris
  • Gas leaks
  • Lead-based paint
  • Overgrown vegetation
  • Lack of water, heating, bath/shower or toilet
  • Lack of adequate ventilation

If you have an unsafe or unhealthy housing issue that cannot be remediated through first contacting your landlord, please notify the appropriate code enforcement agency listed below for the area where the residential living unit is located.


Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality problems that may be triggers for asthma, allergies or other health conditions include dust mites, mold and mildew, first-hand and second-hand smoke (tobacco and wood smoke), pest droppings, animal dander, fumes from off-gassing paint, carpets, glues, flooring, furniture and building materials, and toxins from cleaning products.

More information about asthma and homes is available at the California Breathing website by the California Department of Public Health or the American Lung Association's asthma website.  While the Asthma Coalition website is no longer active, it still contains some helpful information regarding indoor air quality issues.



Mold is not in itself a substandard housing issue, but is a symptom of a moisture problem (leaks/flooding/water intrusion). When calling concerning mold growth, let the code enforcement officer know about the moisture or leak problem that is causing the mold growth so that the enforcement agency can respond to a substandard housing issue.

Mold produces "spores," tiny particles you can't see that float through the air. When we breathe in mold spores, they get into our lungs, and may cause health problems in some individuals. People with allergies to mold may have reactions that include watery eyes, runny or stuffed up noses, sneezing, itching, wheezing, trouble breathing, headaches, and tiredness. Mold may also trigger asthma attacks.

We are learning more about the health problems mold causes. Some molds can trigger severe problems in some people, while not causing symptoms in others. Because mold needs moisture to grow, try to keep your home and everything in it clean and dry.

Most of us have seen mold or moisture around the home. But did you know that mold is alive? It grows on wet or damp surfaces. It is often gray or black but can also be white, orange, or green. It can grow out in the open, on places like walls, clothes, and appliances. But you may also find it in more hidden places under carpets or in walls and attics. Mold often smells musty. Often times, mold is referred to by the name mildew. If you live near the ocean or in a damp climate, mold may be more likely to be found in your home than in homes in other dryer climate areas. Below are some frequently asked questions about mold:

Is there a way to test to see if I have mold or to determine what kind it is?

Adequate testing for mold is expensive and requires specialized air vacuuming equipment for testing both inside and outside the home. An inexpensive agar plate placed on a window ledge does not provide accurate information. If you can see mold or smell mold, you have mold present. It is not necessary to determine what kind of mold you have; if you have any kind of mold, it should not be there!

Will mold make me sick, especially black toxic mold?

In healthy individuals, mold does not cause illness. It can exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as hypersensitivity (allergic reaction), asthma, and upper respiratory conditions. Long term mold exposure may increase the likelihood of developing a mold allergy. Some mold (such as Stachybotrus) produces spores that do produce toxins, but unless you are allergic to that mold or unless you inhale or ingest an extremely large quantity, you may not notice any effects unless you are immuno-compromised. If you are experiencing health problems, please see your doctor.

Why does mold grow?

Mold requires two things to grow - moisture and food. For food, mold can utilize almost any substrate (caulking, wallboard, latex paint, wood, etc.), which is why it is virtually impossible to control mold through eliminating this factor. In order to effectively control mold, the moisture factor must be eliminated. It may be a leak in the ceiling that runs down inside the walls, or it may simply be that your house is not properly ventilated (too airtight) and is holding in the air moisture. Again, whatever the source of moisture, if it is eliminated the growth of mold can be controlled

Will you come out and inspect my home for mold?

No. But your home can be inspected for structural or weather-proofing deficiencies which may allow water intrusion to the interior that can thereby promote mold growth. Contact your local code enforcement department (see list above) to inspect your dwelling.

How do I get rid of the mold that's already there?

Prior to cleaning any mold, be sure that all water intrusion problems have been eliminated or the mold will likely return. Contact your local code enforcement department to inspect your dwelling. To clean the mold, scrub any visible mold with a detergent solution, rinse, and then scrub (use a brush) the area with a solution of one part of unscented 5.25 percent household bleach to 10 parts of water. Dry the area thoroughly. Remember that the mold will return if enough moisture is present. Sometimes it helps to put a dehumidifier in the room. You'll be surprised at how much water a good dehumidifier can pull out of the air. Be sure the room is well-ventilated. You can keep a window open or use a fan.

Where can I get more information about mold?

The internet is a great place to get additional mold information, but make sure you are getting information from reputable sites. Here are a few:

  • National Center for Healthy Housing
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture & Your Home"
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC): "Facts About Mold & Dampness"
  • California Department of Health Services: "Mold In My Home: What Do I Do?"
  • American Lung Association: "Healthy Air at Home"

I am a renter. What can I do if my landlord won't fix the problem?

While there are no mold regulations, there are state codes that address "dampness of habitable rooms" and other structural deficiencies, particularly for rental properties. Rental housing must meet certain minimum code requirements.

First, try to resolve the problem with your landlord by putting all requests for repairs in writing and maintain your own copies of those requests. If possible, take pictures and gather other documentation of the problem. If the landlord does not respond to your request, contact your local code enforcement department.

Seek advice on your rights and responsibilities. Inform your local code enforcement department that there is moisture in the home due to structural defects which is causing mold growth. Code enforcement will do an inspection to determine if you live in a "substandard structure". If this is the case, the landlord is required to make the necessary repairs. The state code sections that apply are listed below:

California Health and Safety Code Section 17920.3

California Civil Code Sections 1940-1942

Tenant/Landlord Resources

Fair Housing Sonoma County at Petaluma People Services Center (PPSC) offers free, non-biased services available to all tenants, agents and landlords who live in, manage or own property in Sonoma County. Contact PPSC at 707-765-8488 or visit their webpage at

The California Department of Consumer Affairs: Offers an excellent website about Landlord Tenant rights, responsibilities. California Rural Legal Assistance Provides legal assistance on landlord/tenant issues to low income residents of Sonoma County (707) 528-9941.

Legal Aid of Sonoma County 1105 N. Dutton Avenue, Suite B, Santa Rosa, CA, 95401 (707) 542-1290, Fax (707) 542-0177, Email contact:

This webpage information was made possible in part with support from the Sonoma County Asthma Coalition , and with a grant from the California Department of Public Health, California Breathing to implement the State's strategic plan for asthma.


For More Information

National Center for Healthy Housing

Help Yourself to a Healthy Home (PDF: 1.6 Mb)
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District (MSMVCD): Programs and Services
Services from the MSMVCD include rodent advice and residence inspection.

Housing Resources Guide (PDF: 49 Kb)
Source:Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP)

Source: Sonoma County Asthma Coalition  (MAYBE TRY THIS INSTEAD?  (Same with Spanish version)