Apartment leasing platform Ziroom slammed after tenant's death

Ziroom Photo: Sohu

Ziroom, a major Chinese apartment rental service provider, has sparked public outcry after some of its tenants claimed that they were suffering from the poor air quality in the company’s apartments, which may have caused one death.

A writer on Friday published an article on WeChat Official Accounts Platform, saying that a 37-year-old man surnamed Wang died in July of leukaemia after living in an apartment rented from Ziroom in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, for two months.

Wang moved from Beijing to Hangzhou after being offered a job with e-commerce giant Alibaba.

In early July, he felt sick while visiting his family in Beijing, and on July 11 was admitted to Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, where he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer that typically affects immature cells that would otherwise develop into disease-fighting white blood cells. Two days later, Wang died.

His death came as a shock to his wife, since a routine physical exam in January had revealed no health problems, aside from noting that Wang was a little overweight.

Suspicious of the air quality of the apartment, Wang’s wife traveled to Hangzhou from Beijing and asked a local testing agency to check its indoor air quality.

The test results showed the level of formaldehyde, a potentially carcinogenic chemical released by paints and varnishes, in the air in the apartment was 0.132 milligrams per cubic meter. According to the national standard, levels of indoor formaldehyde should not exceed 0.1 mg per cubic meter.

Wang’s wife has launched a legal action alleging that the excessive level of formaldehyde at the apartment caused the death of her husband. A court in Hangzhou’s Binjiang District is set to hear the case on September 27, according to media reports.

Ziroom responded to the incident on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Saturday, saying the company would cooperate with law enforcement and communicate with the family accordingly.

However, it pointed out that it had not received any medical records of Wang from his family, nor were there any complaints from him regarding indoor air quality at the apartment during his stay

The statement enraged some Web users who noted that Ziroom is trying to shirk responsibility and lacks sincerity.

“The whole statement is about clearing itself of any wrongdoing,” one Weibo user commented.

“It is frightening to just think about such a sales-oriented firm rushing into services related to people’s livelihood,” another Weibo user said.

The Beijing News reported on Monday that Zuo Hui, the board chairman of Ziroom’s parent Beijing HomeLink Real Estate Brokerage and a shareholder of Ziroom, said on his WeChat Friend Moments that the company would take all criticism and shoulder all responsibility.

This is not the first time that Ziroom has been in trouble over formaldehyde. In April, another tenant was diagnosed with a low white blood cell count. After the apartment was tested professionally, the gas in the kitchen, bedroom and sitting room all exceeded the acceptable standard by 2.3 times. At least four other cases have been reported with the company promising corrective measures each time.

Ziroom has removed all apartments offered for first-time rental in nine cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, from the App.

It said in a statement released on Friday that it will not reinstate the listings for the apartments until they meet the China Metrology Accreditation standards for indoor air quality.

Apart from the air quality issues, online apartment leasing companies have also been criticized for manipulating rents by controlling supplies.

In mid-August, various agencies from the Beijing Municipal Government held a meeting with Ziroom and other online apartment leasing platforms including Danke and Xingyu.

At the meeting, the authorities asked the companies to not use investments from banks and others to engage in vicious competition, including offering prices higher than the market to gain access to housing supplies, according to the Beijing News.

China boasts a huge population of migrant workers. Due to skyrocketing housing prices, most of them have to rent apartments while working in megacities. This promoted the boom of housing rental business, with Ziroom and Danke nearly dominating the market.

However, recent safety scandals of Ziroom have greatly affected the reputation of the company, and a number of tenants are moving out of the apartments due to concerns over indoor air quality.

If they want to regain the trust of the public, the first thing they need to do may be paying more attention to their tenants’ legitimate rights and interests rather than being blindly accumulating wealth.

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