A rule requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing may be on its way, both through the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and, potentially, through federal legislation. For many low income families, however, this is already too little, too late.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors Save Lives
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a deadly, colorless, odorless gas produced by the burning of carbon-based fuels. Any appliance that runs on natural gas can potentially malfunction and poison an entire home, and purpose-built sensors are the only way of detecting the gas before it reaches lethal levels.
Like many public housing projects, Allen Benedict Court in South Carolina was not equipped with these life-saving devices when CO poisoning claimed the lives of two residents in January of 2019. Firefighters responding to the call had to evacuate over 400 surviving residents. As well as losing their homes, these survivors have no way of knowing the full extent of the brain damage and other long-term harm their exposure may have caused.
A follow-up investigation by NBC found at least 11 more CO-related fatalities in public housing since 2003.
Progress on CO Safety Has Been Slow and Uneven
Knowledge of carbon monoxide’s devastating effects is nothing new, and neither is the technology to protect against it. It’s absurd that anyone should have to live with the possibility of dying from CO poisoning in the night, especially when working CO detectors cost as little as $20. Yet only 27 states have regulations requiring CO detectors in homes, and even where these regulations exist, they’re often incomplete and unenforced.
South Carolina, for example, does require CO detectors, but Allen Benedict Court still passed its building inspections with flying colors, because these inspections were conducted by HUD instead of local authorities.
This Simple Fix Might Not Be Finalized for Years
In response to the tragedy at Allen Benedict Court, the National Low Income Housing Commission wrote an open letter to the secretary of HUD, urging him to fix this gap in his organization’s regulations, in accordance with its own stated recommendations regarding CO safety.
HUD first responded with claims of concern for the problem but no proposed timeline for fixing it. Then it announced it would begin checking for CO detectors for data purposes only, but would not penalize landlords for failing to provide them. Finally, in April of 2019, it began drafting a rule requiring CO detectors, but the process for instituting new HUD regulations can take months or years to complete.
Congress has also responded by introducing a bill that would make CO detectors mandatory in public housing by federal law. However, even if it passes, the bill would not extend to private complexes that receive public assistance.
Meanwhile, vulnerable residents of public and publically subsidized housing are in mortal danger, and landlords with the power to install life-saving alarms already have a responsibility to do so. Whether the detectors are officially required or not, exposing residents to known, life-threatening conditions is both morally and legally negligent.
If you or a loved one have been harmed due to a missing or broken CO detector, call the carbon monoxide poisoning attorneys at The Stoddard Firm to learn how we can help you find justice.