Carbon monoxide (CO) is a lethal gas with no color or odor, that is a byproduct of fuel (gas, oil, wood, etc.) combustion. When inhaled, CO enters the bloodstream and replaces oxygen. Low levels can cause mild nausea or headaches; high concentrations of CO can bring on unconsciousness, brain damage, and death.
Common home appliances, such as gas dryers, and fireplaces all produce CO. If appliances or fireplaces are not vented properly, CO can build up within your rental unit and poison the occupants. Other causes of CO poisoning include using a gas oven to heat your home or a charcoal gas grill to cook indoors. In tight, “energy-efficient” apartments, indoor accumulations of CO are especially dangerous.
If your landlord regularly maintains your appliances and vents, this should prevent the common CO hazards from a malfunctioning appliance or clogged vent. But even the most diligent landlord may miss a problem, such as a blocked chimney caused by a bird’s nest.
Also, reasonably-priced carbon monoxide detectors are available that can monitor carbon monoxide levels and sound an alarm if the levels get too high. Some states, such as California require landlord to install carbon monoxide rentals. If your state or city doesn’t require this, ask your landlord to provide a CO detector or purchase your own.
But remember that a CO detector alone is no replacement for proper landlord maintenance of appliances, chimneys, and other parts of your home.
See the EPA publication Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning for details on CO poisoning, and check the EPA website section on carbon monoxide.
For detailed advice on tenant options if your landlord fails to meet health and safety standards or deal with an environmental health hazard such as carbon monoxide, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide or (if you’re renting in California), California Tenants’ Rights.