A little known law went into effect this year requiring landlords to install carbon monoxide detectors in any rental property with oil or gas furnaces, gas appliances, fireplaces or attached garages.
The bill, passed by the N.C. General Assembly, went into effect Jan. 1, 2010. However, some landlords are unaware of the new law.
In a survey of 15 landlords advertising rentals in newspaper classifieds or on craigslist, only half had carbon monoxide detectors despite all the rental property meeting the criteria. Six did not have detectors and two said they didn’t know.
Four rental agencies in the region that manage fleets of properties were also surveyed. One had never heard of the law, another heard of it but hadn’t yet complied with it, and another refused to say. Only one of the four had both heard about it and was currently in compliance.
Warren Putnam, Waynesville’s Code Enforcement Officer, said there’s no good way to get the word out about the new law.
“There’s really no way we can enforce it unless someone calls to complain about it,” said Putnam.
But tenants are even less likely to know about the law, so the lack of a carbon monoxide detector fails to raise a red flag as something worthy of complaint.
Putnam said he’s inspected three to four houses this year that were required to have detectors and didn’t.
“We are trying to work with the landlords, not against them. They’re willing to fix the problem,” Putnam said.
However, rental houses don’t get inspections as a matter of course. Nor is there a database of landlords that would make it possible to send them all a letter.
Bruce Totty, the former broker manager at Select Homes in Haywood County, found out about the new legislation in January shortly after the law went into effect, thanks to a property owner of one of their rentals.
“When we got the word to start installing them, we started putting them in,” she said.
Dawn Johnson, property manager for a large number of rentals owned by Joe Sam Queen in Haywood County, found out about the new law by reading the April edition of the Waynesville town newsletter.
“They expect us to know it, but we’ve not received much of a formal notice,” Johnson said.
It took the firm until June to finish installing carbon monoxide detectors in all its units. Queen is a state senator.
Carolina Vacations, another rental property company in Haywood County, refused to say whether it had carbon monoxide detectors in its rental units. The company said that it doesn’t give out that kind of information.
Don Wood, a Jackson County landlord, home inspector and appraiser, was unaware of the new law but is a champion of carbon monoxide detectors. Wood said all his properties that have combustion occuring inside have had detectors since he’s owned them, simply because it is the safe thing to do.
“You should never live in a place that absorbs oxygen as a part of its operation that doesn’t have one,” said Wood.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. It is released as a byproduct of combustion — the burning of wood, oil, kerosene, coal, propane or other fossil fuels. Inhaling too much is fatal.
Carbon monoxide bonds better than oxygen to the hemoglobin in red blood cells. If a person inhales too much carbon monoxide, it prevents the blood cells from bonding with oxygen. Therefore, the red blood cells are not able to carry vital oxygen to body tissue, and the person suffocates.
About 170 people die every year in the United States from carbon monoxide poisoning that is the direct result of malfunctioning appliances, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.