Rentals, Condos Must Have CO Detectors

Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman
As of October 1, 2007, owners of public buildings defined to include all condos and rental properties, including vacation rentals must replace their already required battery-powered or plug-in carbon monoxide (CO) detectors with hard- wired CO detectors that have battery backups.

  As the October 1 deadline approached, the state's Division of Fire Safety was fielding many questions from building owners, according to Micheal Greenia, assistant state fire marshal. Vermont already requires that CO detectors be installed in or near the sleeping areas of all public buildings, but they did not have to be hard-wired until now. An additional CO detector is required in rooms that contain a fuel-burning appliance.


  The deadlines were established in a CO detector law, H.243, that passed two years ago after a carbon monoxide-related death of a University of Vermont student (see VPOR, Vol. 20, No. 3, p. 4). H.243 also required newly-constructed single-family homes to have wired-in smoke and CO  detectors in the vicinity of the bedrooms, and existing single-family homes to certify that they have at least one working CO detector of any type at the time of their sale. Existing state law already required smoke detectors at the time of sale.


  In most situations, if an owner already has a hard-wired smoke detector in place, he or she can swap it out and replace it with a hard-wired combination CO smoke detector, as long as it is from the same manufacturer, according to Ben Dexter, an electrician with Dexter Electric PC of East Barre.


  An owner might be able to do this on their own, but if an electrician is called in to do the hard- wiring, the price jumps to account for labor. A typical detector may run anywhere from $60 to $80. If an electrician is required the total price could jump to $175 -$200, Dexter estimated. From 2001 through 2004, there were 800 fire department-reported CO incidents in Vermont, including 6 unintentional deaths from CO poisoning, according to the state. Exposure to CO can mimic flu systems, with headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. Higher levels of exposure result in disorientation and drowsiness, leading to death.  Among the most common causes of CO poisoning is improper maintenance of heating units. "There should be yearly maintenance to keep heating appliances running clean," said Greenia.


  Garages can pose hazards if residents let their vehicles run or cook  with  barbecue grills in their garages. Generators used during power outages can also create CO hazards, if run indoors. The state is not planning any special enforcement of the Oct. 1 deadline. "Basically this is determined through the normal inspection process," Greenia said. "As of the Oct. 1 deadline, it will be a violation of the state fire code not to comply."


  Punishments for violations vary depending on the severity of the crime. "It can be advanced if it's noted and not corrected in an allotted time, or if there is a serious threat to life," said Greenia. Fines can run from $100 per day for each violation, up to $10,000 for a serious violation, Greenia said.  State inspections are sometimes undertaken by request when a sale is occurring or because of a complaint by a tenant. It is unlikely that the typical vacation rental (at least ones with fewer than 20 to 25 potential occupants) would be inspected unless a complaint were made.


  Officials note that even if a rental or condo is never inspected, owners would be wise from a liability standpoint to have hard-wired detectors installed. Otherwise, if a tragedy occurs, the lack of compliance with state law would be a factor weighing against the property owner in any lawsuit. Owners of rental properties or condos can call the state to request their properties be checked for compliance: There is no fee for such inspections.  Greenia recommends testing CO detectors on a monthly basis, and replacing the batteries at least once a year, twice if possible. He also suggests carefully reading the manufacturer's instructions. The Oct. 1 deadline has caused some confusion, especially in the Burlington area, where the city has a municipal agreement allowing it to go beyond the adopted state code in requiring more stringent standards.  "Some owner associations have put out information based on Burlington requirements and not necessarily state requirements," Greenia said.  "They have led people to believe they need to replace everything throughout the building, but the state requirement is one CO detector in the vicinity of each bedroom." Those in Burlington who have questions about requirements should contact the Burlington City Fire Marshal Terry Francis at (802) 864-5577.


  For additional information regarding state of Vermont CO detector (and smoke detector) requirements, contact Micheal Greenia at (802) 479-7587, or visit the Fire Safety Division's website at  By Kim Gifford

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