New Law Requires Carbon Monoxide Detectors

By Ellen Curran

There were nearly 3,000 carbon monoxide cases reported in Massachusetts in 2003. According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4800 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year. The gas gives little warning without a detector, which costs approximately $30.00. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, headache and fatigue and is commonly misdiagnosed as the flu.

Nicole’s law is the legislative response to the death of Nicole Garofalo, 7, who died after a snowdrift blocked an exhaust vent from her family’s propane-fired boiler, filling the house with odorless, colorless and lethal carbon monoxide fumes.

On November 4, 2005, Governor Mitt Romney signed “Nicole’s Law.” This law takes effect on March 31, 2006. The law applies to all dwelling structures in Massachusetts which are occupied in whole or in part for residential purposes and have either enclosed parking or equipment such as boilers, furnaces or hot water heaters that are powered by gas, coal, oil or wood.

Nicole’s law directly affects Sellers and Landlords of residential property. The enforcement of Nicole’s Law will be similar to the enforcement of smoke detectors. Local fire departments are now required to inspect premises to confirm that carbon monoxide detectors have been properly installed and maintained as a perquisite to selling or transferring the property. In addition to presenting a smoke certificate at the time of a sale, the seller must also present a carbon monoxide certificate.

In regards to Landlords, the law requires the landlord to install, inspect, maintain and replace, if necessary, non-hardwired carbon monoxide detectors at the beginning of any rental period as of March 31, 2006. The law does have language stating extensions are available but the language is vague as to how to file the extension and on what criteria the extension will be allowed and/or rejected. So practically speaking, any landlord who has tenants at will must install the detectors by March 31, 2006 and any landlord with a valid lease, can wait until the terms of the lease expire to install the detectors.

What type of carbon monoxide detector that will be required in order to comply with this new law has not yet been determined by the board of fire prevention. A decision is expected shortly. It does appear that larger buildings will have to install hardwired systems, similar to the smoke detection systems currently required. If the building requires the hardwired carbon monoxide detectors, the building owner and/or landlord will have until January 1, 2007 to comply with the law.

Opponents to this law argue that landlords and sellers are being burdened with too many requirements and fees. The fire departments are allowed to charge between twenty five to fifty dollars for a carbon monoxide certificate. In addition, if the carbon monoxide inspection is not done simultaneously with the smoke detector inspection the fire department may charge an inspection fee up to one hundred and fifty dollars for any building with six or less residential units and up to five hundred dollars for any building with more than six residential units.

The March 31, 2006 deadline is coming quickly. All landlords should take the steps now to determine the most cost-effective means for installing and maintaining carbon monoxide detectors.