Your apartment may be poisoning you—a TWOC investigation finds a rental business riddled with scams, runaway prices, and toxic chemicals in the walls

When a tenant sued rental agency Ziroom in August, blaming the high levels of formaldehyde in one of its Hangzhou apartments for her husband’s death from leukemia, Xue Jing was one of many who saw the news and panicked.

“I bought a DIY testing kit, and it told me there were abnormal formaldehyde levels in my bedroom, so I borrowed a meter and got a reading of 0.23 milligrams per cubic meter,” Xue told TWOC, quoting a figure more than twice the national maximum. The carcinogen, commonly found in varnishes and paint used in renovations and furniture by companies like Ziroom, is capped at 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter by Chinese law. “I didn’t even know this could be a problem; the agent never said anything before I moved in.”

For those in the know, it has long been an open secret that harmful chemicals are present in apartments across China—and that this is only the tip of a toxic iceberg. “Actually, all rentals have formaldehyde levels exceeding the maximum; Ziroom is just the biggest offender, and the unluckiest,” one source within Ziroom’s competitor, Xiangyu Apartments, told TWOC on the condition of anonymity.

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author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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