After several renters with Ziru Room, a famous Chinese real estate company, found themselves feeling queasy and nauseous, tests were taken of the air quality of the locations they were leasing and it found excess amounts of formaldehyde.
Ziru Room advertises themselves as being a company that only rents out high quality locations. Since it got established in 2011, the company has provided long-term rental houses for big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, this is not the first time for the company to be involved in such scandals.
In 2017, a 20-year-old girl discovered that the levels of a potentially carcinogenic chemical were beyond acceptable in the recently decorated apartment that she rented from Ziru Room. She knew something was wrong when she moved in and within two weeks, she was diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection.
The girl then bought a gas detector, which showed that the indoor formaldehyde level was over three times the nationally accepted limit of 0.1mg/m³.
Similar things happen again. Since Liu Ya moved into her house rented from Ziru Room in April 2017 in Beijing, her white blood cells began to decrease: "I was healthy before I moved into the house with a white blood cell count (WBC) of 3.9, which is within the normal range, but I surprisingly found that my WBC decreased to 2.23, like a person who just did chemotherapy, during my health examination. The doctor asked me whether I was decorating a house recently, which I am not."
Until then, Liu didn't connect her health problem with where she was living. However, after discovering that other tenants had complained about the toxic environment of other Ziru apartments, she got an environment monitoring company to test the house.
The result surprised Liu. According to the report from the company, the concentrations of formaldehyde and total volatile organic compound (TVOC) highly exceeded the national standards by 1.7 times and 2.3 times respectively.
After Liu moved out of the house, her WBC slowly returned to its normal level. But she is still worried about it: "Who knows what will happen in the future since my WBS decreased so suddenly during that time?"
Chen Hang, who rents an apartment with his girlfriend in Beijing, also has the same problem. Since they moved in in February, they have suffered from health problems like a sore throat and dry skin. According to the monitoring agency, the concentration of formaldehyde in their house is 2.1 times of the acceptable standard.
Other cases have also been reported.
Li Long, whose girlfriend always feels sick when she stays with him in his apartment which is rented by Ziru, chose to talk to the company. However, they told them that they had already been told that the apartment was being rented for the first time after decoration. If they were sensitive to poor air quality, they were told not to rent the house.
However, Li Long insists that is no excuse for an excess of formaldehyde.
The company also refused to give Li Long a full refund: "The staff even said in a threatening tone that as long as we are still in the house, we should pay for it."
After the media and local government had intervened, the company agreed to give a full refund. However, they asked Li Long to sign a document, agreeing that he couldn't say anything bad about the company, and keep the content of the document confidential. If Li broke the contract, he would have to pay the company three times the settlement fee.
"I want compensation, not hush money," said Li Long, "so I refused."
Liu Ya's situation is no better than Li Long's. After she spoke to them several times, the company insisted it would only send back one month's rent. The company even urged her to leave, saying that they need to show the apartments to new tenants.
In 2017, Li Ying, the market director of Ziru Room finally gave an interview and spoke about the high level of chemicals found in the apartments: "The standard for free decoration and air treatment in our company's houses is ahead of the entire industry. However, due to reasons out of our control, such as the change of temperature, some different situations may arise. For tenants who find their apartment has an unacceptable air quality, we will move them to another apartment for free. For tenants who quit their lease, we will compensate one month of rent."