Many people who have looked to buy or rent an older home have ruled out choices because of ugly wall coverings. Removing layers of old paper that have hung in there, adhering to walls for decades, is a remodeling project of major proportions. It involves lots of time and elbow grease. In homes papered before 1980, it can even be downright dangerous to undertake wallpaper removal because many vinyl papers before that time contain asbestos [source: EPA].
If intact, wallpaper may be best left alone, but if there are signs of cracking and curling, a professional can test the paper and adhesive behind the paper for asbestos and recommend options for removal or remediation. Sealing the walls with paint and other coatings will prevent deterioration of the paper and keep any particles from releasing into the air even with breakdown. Often it is best to just paint over it but it's still advisable to get professional advice on which products work best to contain the mess.