A landlord in Berkeley, California is facing a lawsuit for wrongful death after two tenants died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a rental home. While it is clear that the tenants and their two cats died from carbon monoxide, the utility company failed to locate the source of the leak. The property remained vacant while further investigations were conducted.
According to a news report, a carbon monoxide detector was installed in the lower level of the apartment, but not on the second floor where the couple slept, allegedly in violation of local building code.
A wrongful death lawsuit is based in negligence law. To determine what duty, if any, a landlord owed to the tenants in such a case, statutes or regulations such as building codes can be used as a guide. Violating the statute or regulation is synonymous with violating the landlord’s duty of care. At least 38 states have some form of regulation requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes.
Where there is no statute or regulation requiring carbon monoxide detectors, landlords generally are held to the standard of the industry. Given the ease of installing a detector and the nominal cost compared to the dire consequences of suffering carbon monoxide poisoning, a jury likely would have little difficulty finding a landlord violated the duty of care by failing to install a carbon monoxide detector.
Carbon monoxide can be produced in many ways, including:
Fireplaces, gas or wood;
Cars running nearby;
Some power tools;
Lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers.
The exposure to carbon monoxide can result from improper use as well as malfunctions which cause blockage in vents or electrical fires. Examples include:
Running too many appliances at once;
Debris blocking a chimney or vent — lint, snow, wasp nests, animals, creosote buildup; and
Warming up a car in the winter.
Because poisonings often occur overnight while victims are asleep, it is generally recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be placed near bedrooms. The gas may rise with warm air, so detectors should be placed on every level of a rental unit, including the basement.
Other practical concerns include purchasing a smoke detector along with the carbon monoxide detector, as each of these devices react to different materials in the air. Or, purchase a combined smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
Also, it is important to track when the unit was manufactured. Typically, a detector will last about five years before needing to be replaced.
A carbon monoxide detector on every floor of a rental unit is a viable solution for preventing injury to tenants.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.