The Toledo Blade reports that earlier this week, an Ohio landlord was indicted on charges of reckless homicide in the carbon monoxide deaths of four tenants in the landlord’s rental unit. Allegedly the landlord supplied the tenants with a faulty space heater because the rental unit did not have an operating furnace. The rental unit also supposedly lacked carbon monoxide detectors. Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common. In October, 2010, a New York landlord was sentenced to criminal charges in connection with the carbon monoxide deaths of three tenants resulting from the installation of a gas-powered generator in a rental unit. In many cases, landlords might be criminally or civilly responsible for carbon monoxide related injuries.
For civil liability, a landlord can be responsible for carbon monoxide poisoning depending on the source of the carbon monoxide gas. If the source of the gas was under the landlord’s control or the could have been foreseen by the landlord, the landlord can be held responsible. A landlord can also have civil and/or criminal responsibility for failure to comply with local laws and ordinances related to building codes and carbon monoxide detector requirements.
In response to carbon monoxide dangers, the Illinois legislature passed the Illinois Carbon Monoxide Detector Act which went into effect on January 1, 2007. The law requires that every dwelling unit in Illinois is equipped with at least one operating carbon monoxide alarm within 15 feet of every room used for sleeping purposes. The law goes on to require that landlords supply and install the alarms and tenants provide general maintenance to the alarms and notify the landlord or landlord’s agent in writing of alarm deficiencies the tenant cannot correct. Landlords are also responsible for providing the tenant with written information regarding alarm testing and maintenance. Landlords must check that the batteries in a carbon monoxide detector are in working order at the time a tenant takes possession and thereafter, it is the tenant’s obligation to change the batteries. The law exempts residential units in buildings that do not rely on fossil fuel combustion for heat, ventilation, or hot water that are not connected in any way to a garage and are not sufficiently close to any source of ventilated carbon monoxide, as determined by the local
The penalties for failure to comply with the Act are real. A landlord’s willful failure to install or maintain any required operating carbon monoxide alarm required is a Class B misdemeanor. Any person tampering with, removing, destroying, disconnecting, or removing the batteries from any installed carbon monoxide alarm, except in the course of inspection, maintenance, or replacement of the alarm, is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor in the case of a first conviction and a Class 4 felony in the case of a second or subsequent conviction.
The City of Chicago was one of the first municipalities to enact its own ordinance related to carbon monoxide detectors. Section 13-64-190 of the Chicago Municipal Code requires that, unless exempt from the law, every residential or mixed use building has not less than one (although more could be required based on the rules) approved carbon monoxide detector which must be installed within 40 feet of all rooms used for sleeping purposes and in the room of any central heating unit.
The law exempts (1) residential units in buildings that do not rely on fossil fuel combustion for heat, ventilation or hot water and which are not sufficiently close to any ventilated source of carbon monoxide, as determined by the building commissioner, to receive carbon monoxide from that source and (2) residential units heated by steam, hot water or electric heat that are not connected by ductwork or ventilation shafts to any room containing a fossil fuel-burning boiler or heater, and are not sufficiently close to any ventilated source of carbon monoxide, as determined by the building commissioner, to receive carbon monoxide from that source.
The Chicago Ordinance specifically requires a landlord to supply and install required carbon monoxide detectors and requires the landlord to test and maintain carbon monoxide detectors located in common areas (not in the rental dwelling unit). The landlord must provide written information regarding carbon monoxide testing and maintenance to at least one adult tenant in each dwelling unit. Tenants are obligated to test, provide general maintenance, and replace required batteries for carbon monoxide detectors located in the tenant’s dwelling unit.
The Chicago Ordinance makes it illegal to remove batteries from a carbon monoxide detector or tamper with a detector in any way to make it inoperable except for replacing batteries. A violation will result in a fine of not less than $300.00 nor more than $1,000.00 and/or up to six months in jail.
Smart landlords will install the required detectors in their furnace rooms and all bedrooms. It also makes sense to inspect the detectors at the time a new tenancy begins in the presence of the tenant; to have the tenant acknowledge that the detectors are in working condition; and to have the tenant acknowledge the receipt of detector instructions. If you are a landlord looking to incorporate carbon monoxide detector provisions into your lease, feel free to contact us to discuss how we might be able to assist you.