Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector. This device alerts residents of the presence of a deadly, odorless, and colorless gas. Without the alarm, everyone inside could die from exposure without ever knowing they were in danger.
It’s a frightening thing to imagine, and it’s so easy to prevent. Unfortunately, every year—especially in the winter—we hear of people dying from carbon monoxide exposure.
What if you rent a house or apartment? Is a carbon monoxide detector something your landlord should provide? We can all agree it would be a good idea, but is your landlord legally obligated to provide you with a carbon monoxide detector? The answer is yes and no.
In roughly half of the 50 United States, landlords are required to provide and maintain carbon monoxide detectors. Their degree of responsibility varies according to state-specific laws. In the rest of the states, a carbon monoxide detector is not legally required. That leaves tenants on their own to make a wise investment or take their chances.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas. This gas is produced whenever you burn something. Without help from technology, it’s undetectable by humans.
Typically, carbon monoxide poisoning comes from faulty venting in heating systems or using heaters indoors that were designed for outdoor-only use. To keep it simple, if it burns, it can produce carbon monoxide.
What Are Some Signs of Exposure?
If you are fortunate enough to escape death, be aware of these signs of carbon monoxide exposure: vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and general confusion.
When a carbon monoxide detector goes off, open some windows to air out the house and get everyone outside. If it’s obvious where the contamination is coming from, address it if you can. However, if you are uncertain or you don’t feel safe, call 911 for immediate assistance. Don’t go back in the house until the fire department gives you the clear.
How Can You Prevent Carbon Monoxide Exposure?
No one tries to get carbon monoxide exposure, but what can you do to reduce your risks?
- Never use your gas stove as a heating source for your home. Gas stoves are meant to be used while closed. They are vented to the outside. This is an unfortunate risk to poor people when they have their utilities shut off. A gas stove can still work without electricity, so people often rely on it for heat.
- If you use a generator when the power goes out, make sure you use it outdoors, away from the house, and never near a window. A generator produces a great deal of carbon monoxide in a short period of time. Keep it away from the air you breathe.
- Don’t burn outdoor items inside. It sounds silly, but people have beeb known to bring charcoal grills indoors. Propane lanterns or gas grills designed for camping use should only be used outside and never in a tent. Your fireplace has a chimney for a reason, and your furnace and stove have vents. If you bring fire indoors, you risk exposure.
- Never start your car in a closed garage. People have died warming their cars up in an enclosed garage when carbon monoxide seeped through the adjoining wall. In an enclosed area, it doesn’t take too long for carbon monoxide to build up. For this reason, you should also never run lawnmowers, leaf blowers, or any other gas-burning equipment indoors or in an enclosed space.
- Have your furnace and other appliance inspected regularly. Make sure the vents are connected correctly. Make sure there are no blockages such as lint buildup, bird’s nests, branches, or other foreign debris.
How Can Landlords Help?
If you are a landlord, don’t rely on the law to make you do the right thing. Make sure any property you rent out has smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in place. Stipulate in your rental agreement that your tenants are required to change the batteries twice per year and that they are to alert you to any problems with the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. There are some models that serve as both.
Tenants must agree to never remove or tamper with the devices, and they must agree to be responsible for their replacement in the event they are damaged. Make sure the tenants acknowledge in writing that working carbon monoxide detectors have been provided and that they agree to their responsibilities.
We need laws to maintain order and to keep people safe. Your state may have laws regarding carbon monoxide detectors in rental units. Just remember, whether you are a landlord or a tenant, don’t rely on those laws to keep you safe. If your landlord is required to provide a carbon monoxide detector and has not, then make your landlord aware of the violation.
Do whatever you must, but do not wait for compliance. Your life and your family’s lives are too precious. Get a carbon monoxide detector yourself and work out the issues with your landlord later. Your life depends on it. Be smart and stay safe.
Are you familiar with your state’s laws for carbon monoxide detectors?
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.