Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is associated with lung cancer, is found in rental properties throughout the U.S. To meet the responsibility to provide tenants habitable rentals, landlords must address radon problems that occur in rental properties. Because the gas is invisible and odorless, however, it's not always easy to know if radon is present, unlike other environmental and health hazards, such as mold and bedbugs.
Here's how to get started identifying and fixing any radon problems that occur in your rental property—and your potential liability if you don't.
The radon section of the EPA's website has useful information and resources, plus a hotline (800-SOSRADON) to call with specific radon questions. Check out these resources, including a A Citizen' Guide to Radon, and Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction, to educate yourself about potential radon problems and radon reduction techniques. The EPA also has lots of state-specific resources, such as links to health departments.
If radon may be a problem in your rental property, particularly if a tenant has expressed concern about radon and you live in an area that is naturally rich in uranium soil and rock, consider purchasing a radon kit (make sure it says "Meets EPA Requirements") to test the air in your rental properties. Kansas State University's National Radon's Program Services sells inexpensive radon kits and has useful information on the subject.
Many landlords prefer to hire a professional radon contractor to test for radon in their rental properties and address any problems they find. The EPA radon resources mentioned above provide background information on the subject, and you can check with your state radon contact (available on the EPA website) as to radon measurement and certification requirements in your area.
Solving a radon problem means keeping radon out of the building. Good ventilation (opening windows, using fans) will disperse the gas in many situations, but these are really only temporary methods. Effective, long-term solutions include sealing cracks and openings in the foundation in order to keep radon out, or sucking the radon out of the soil before it enters the foundation or basement, and venting it into the air above the roof through a pipe. A professional radon contractor can suggest best options for your particular rental property.
A significant radon presence will make your rental property "uninhabitable," and your tenants will have many legal ways to respond, such as withholding rent, moving out, or suing you. See the Nolo article Tenant Options if Your Landlord Won't Make Major Repairs for advice on the subject.
Only a few states have specific laws regarding landlord radon disclosures or tenant education. These include Florida (Fla. Stat. Ann. §404.056) and Illinois (under the Illinois Radon Awareness Act, 420 Ill. Comp. Stat. § § 46/15. 46/25). Regardless of your state law requirements, if you own rental property in an area known to have radon problems (see the EPA Map of Radon Zones for details), but don't test, warn tenants, or take action, you could be sued for harm that tenants suffer as a result.
For a more detailed discussion of environmental health hazards in rental properties, see Nolo's book Every Landlord's Legal Guide (Californians should see The California Landlord's Law Book: Rights and Responsibilities).