Wendy Koch, USA TODAY8:19 a.m. EDT September 30, 2013

While new homes boast granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances, 40% of all inner-city and suburban homes have at least one health or safety hazard, National Center for Healthy Housing study finds.

Mice, rats and water leaks are among the problems plaguing a rising number of inner-city and suburban homes, 40% of which now have at least one health or safety hazard, says a ranking to be released Monday of 45 U.S. metropolitan areas.

Harmed by the nation's foreclosure crisis and economic downtown, 35 million metro-area homes pose potential risks — up from 30 million (35%) in a similar report four years ago, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing, a non-profit research group.

"It's a worrisome trend," says Rebecca Morley, the Maryland-based group's executive director. She notes poor housing conditions have been linked to asthma, lead poisoning and cancer. She says the deterioration, however, is hardly surprising, because many foreclosed properties sat vacant for long periods, and people who struggled to make ends meet had less money for home maintenance.

The most common problem? Water leaks from the outside, which affected 11% of metro-area homes, followed by signs of mice (10%) interior water leaks (9%) as well as roofing problems, damaged interior walls and foundation problems (each 5%.)

Nationwide, rental properties have more problems than owner-occupied dwellings, and inner-city housing does worse than suburban apartments and homes. A big factor: age. Inner-city rentals are typically older.

The five metro areas that had the least problems — San Jose, Calif., Indianapolis, Anaheim-Santa Ana, Calif., Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., and Phoenix — tend to have newer homes. The three with the least healthy housing conditions were San Antonio; Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis.

"The report documents that healthy homes remain elusive for far too many homeowners, renters and their children," Nicolas Retsinas, a housing expert at Harvard Business School, said in a statement.

The scorecard is based on 20 health-related housing characteristics in the Census Bureau's American Housing Survey. The list also includes rats, peeling paint, holes in walls and broken toilets. The Census surveys were done between 2004 and 2011.

In December, Morley says, her group will release the National Healthy Housing Standard, which local jurisdictions can adopt as a property maintenance code. She says such codes make a difference, adding that Department of Housing and Urban Development properties have codes and are often in better condition than similar non-HUD housing.

Metro areas (including suburbs) with healthiest housing:

1 San Jose

2 Indianapolis

3 Anaheim-Santa Ana (Orange County), Calif.

4 Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.

5 Phoenix

6 Sacramento

7 San Bernardino-Riverside, Calif.

8 Miami-Hialeah, Fla.

9 Minneapolis-Saint Paul

10 Charlotte, N.C.-S.C.

11 New York area

12 Milwaukee

13 Atlanta

14 San Diego

15 Seattle

16 Columbus, Ohio

17 Washington, D.C.-Md.-Va.

18 San Francisco

19 Saint Louis, Mo.-Ill.

20 Portland, Ore.-Wash.

21 Oakland

22 Cleveland

23 Northern New Jersey area

24 Denver

25 Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

26 Hartford, Conn.

27 Norfolk-Virginia Beach

28 Pittsburgh

29 Chicago

30 Providence

31 Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.

32 New Orleans

33 Cincinnati, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.

34 Buffalo

35 Baltimore

36 Los Angeles-Long Beach

37 Boston

38 Dallas

39 Detroit

40 Houston

41 Philadelphia, Pa.-N.J.

42 Oklahoma City

43 San Antonio

44 Birmingham, Ala.

45 Memphis, Tenn.-Ark.-Miss.

Source: National Center for Healthy Housing, based on U.S. Census data

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