The Catholic University of America

Off-Campus Housing Health and Safety

This page provides information specifically for off-campus housing related issues. We will be adding additional topics and supporting resource links in the future. If you have questions regarding health or safety issues that are not currently posted here, please email us at and a staff member will contact you. You can also check out our "About Us" page for specific staff members' contact information.

CUA's Office of Housing Services has an Off-Campus Housing Resource Center devoted to issues and information specifically for students living in, or moving into, off-campus housing. Their Essential Services page includes links for Renter's Insurance, which EHS recommends all off-campus students obtain when moving into any off-campus residence.

The following information is provided as a guideline to some common health and safety related issues when living off-campus.

Health & Safety Topics

  • Bedbugs
  • Lead-Based Paint
  • Fire Safety
  • Additional Healthy Home Links

Health Information: Bedbugs

Identifying Bedbug Infestations:

Bedbug_ProfileYou should be able to see adult bed bugs, nymphs and eggs with your naked eye.  When cleaning or changing bedding, look for:

  • Dark spots which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
  • Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white
  • Live bed bugs – reddish-brown, wingless, about ¼” long
  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed

A sweet and/or musty odor may be characteristic of a larger infestation.

Bed bug bites may affect each person differently. Bite responses can range from an Bedbug bite marksabsence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bite marks are typically similar to that of a mosquito or a flea - a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line.


Treating Bedbug Infestations:

  • Consult a pest management professional as soon as possible rather than taking time to try to treat the problem yourself. Professional chemical treatment may be necessary. Non-chemical professional options may include use of high heat or cold treatments.
  • Wash and dry bedding and clothing at high temperatures to kill bed bugs.
  • Thoroughly vacuum affected areas and immediately dispose of vacuum bags.

Preventing Bedbugs:

  • Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bedbug infestation before bringing them home.
  • Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs which eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
  • Reduce clutter to minimize hiding places for bed bugs.
  • When traveling:
    • In hotel rooms, use luggage racks to hold your luggage when packing or unpacking rather than setting your luggage on the bed or floor.
    • Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping.
    • Upon returning home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.

For further information on bedbugs, refer to:

DC Department of Health, Health Regulation and Licensing Administration, Bureau of Community Hygiene:,A,1384,Q,576712.asp
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):  


Lead-Based Paint

Are you leasing a home or apartment that was built before 1978? It may contain lead-based paint. Before renting pre-1978 housing, lessors must disclose the presence of known lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards in the dwelling. Lessees must also receive a federally approved pamphlet on lead poisoning prevention.

See an example of a disclosure form here: or check this EPA fact sheet for further information:
If major renovations impact lead-based paint in your home, be aware that the work must be done by specially-certified contractors using lead-safe work practices. For more details, visit   


Fire Safety Tips

Over 85% of all campus related fire deaths occur in off-campus housing. With that in mind, consider the following safety tips and information when living off-campus:

Off Campus Blaze at University of MD

The following excerpt is from an online article covered by FoxDC News:

Officials say a firefighter was injured and six University of Maryland students displaced after a fire ripped through their off-campus home in Prince George's County.

A spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department said the blaze, which occurred around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday on Dartmouth Avenue in College Park, caused significant damage.

The firefighter who was injured sustained minor burns to his wrists and was transported to a local hospital for treatment. The students were awakened by the sound of the fire alarm, and none were injured.

Officials say the damage is estimated at roughly $200,000, and that the students were renting the home.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

AP-WF-01-03-15 1621GMT Photo care of PGFD


Too frequently students and parents a-like fail to properly investigate off campus dwellings. There are a few simple measures that can be taken to help ensure better safety outcomes: 1) insist on sprinklered residences with at least 2 ways out, hardwired smoke detectors and, integrated fire Alarm systems for apartment buildings; 2) At the very least single rooms or existing houses should be equipped with hardwire smoke alarms which are interconnected throughout the building; 3) Verify that each dwelling is legally sanctioned by the municipality or agency responsible for the issuance of Rental licenses or Property Leases; 4) Check with the local Building Authority and Fire Marshal to determine what kind of track record your potential landlord has; 5) Always read your lease and know your rights; 6) Exercise good judgment; 7) Not sure? ASK!!!

Take the time to follow this link for ED Comeau's Campus Fire Watch and Fire House Magazine's article by Susan Nichol

Tips to Avoid Off-Campus Housing Fires

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department offers these tips to avoid a fire:

  • Make sure there are working smoke alarms inSmoke Alarm all sleeping areas and hallways, stairwells, etc. Test the alarm to make sure it is working. If the dwelling does not have a smoke alarm, contact the Office of the Fire Marshal at 202-727-1600 to report no smoke alarm, or any fire code violation.
  • Know two ways out of every room. Make sure all windows will open. If bars are installed on the windows they must be releasable, or removable, from the inside.Bars on Basement WindowThis must be accomplished without the use of a key, tool or force greater than that which is required for normal operation of the window.
  • Have and practice an escape plan, and make sure all occupants understand. Have a common meeting point outside the dwelling. DO NOT re-enter the building once you have left. If you must leave your meeting area for any reason, ensure that the other residents know that you are out of the building and safe.
  • If your home uses gas or oil burning appliances (heating units, ovens, etc)  a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarm should be installed to alert residents to dangerous carbon monoxide levels.
  • Keep candles away from flammable Candle burningitems and never leave one burning unattended.
  • Don’t overload extension cords and only used UL approved extension cords and power strips. Don’t "daisy chain" multiple power strips together (plug one into another).
  • Keep a UL-listed multipurpose fire extinguisher in the home (Class ABC). Extinguishers should be mounted near an exit to avoid having to pass a fire in order to get to the extinguisher or exit the room/building. In an apartment, an extinguisher should be mounted in a cabinet or mounted on the wall in the hallway. Make sure extinguishers have a current inspection (commercial) or are not expired (in date) and fully charged.
  • If you use a space heater make sure it is UL approved and is not operating too close to combustible items including bedding and clothing. Maintain a minimum of 3 feet of clearance around space heaters when in use. Use only electric, or oil-filled electric heaters. Kerosene heaters are illegal to use in the District of Columbia.
  • If you do smoke make sure all cigarettes are placed into ashtrays. Before dumping ashtrays, pour small amount of water to cover all smoking materials.
  • If your home has a fireplace, make sure all ashes are cleaned and place in approved containers.
  • Never put ashes in paper bags or dispose of close to dwellings.

Beyond the safety considerations listed above, EHS also encourages all off-campus residents to obtain Renter's Insurance to ensure your property will be replaced in the event of a fire or other problem (e.g. flood from neighbor's burst pipe). Renter's Insurance resource links can be found on CUA's Office of Housing Services off-campus housing Essential Services page



Healthy Homes Resources


CDC - Healthy Homes Initiative

National Center for Healthy Housing