Politics

HUD moves to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing after deaths

Suzy Khimm
Key Points
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development is drafting the first federal rule requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, NBC News reported Thursday.
  • The announcement follows an NBC News investigation finding at least 13 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in public housing since 2003.
  • About half of states require carbon monoxide detectors in some housing, but those rules don't always apply to older rental properties, and the regulations are sporadically enforced.
Ben Carson testifies during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development(HUD) before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 12, 2017.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is drafting the first federal rule requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, after an NBC News investigation revealed the lack of protections for millions of low-income residents.

At least 13 people have died from the hazardous gas in federally subsidized housing since 2003, NBC News found.

The new requirement will go through the federal rulemaking process, which means it could be months, at a minimum, before it's implemented.

"A simple, inexpensive, widely available device can be the difference between life and death," HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement on Thursday, announcing the agency's plans to move forward with the new requirement in both publicly and privately owned HUD housing.

"Given the unevenness of state and local law, we intend to make certain that CO detectors are required in all our housing programs, just as we require smoke detectors, no matter where our HUD-assisted families live," Carson added.

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About half of states require carbon monoxide detectors in some housing, but those rules don't always apply to older rental properties, and the regulations are sporadically enforced.

HUD currently does not require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, despite past deaths and federal recommendations for all households with fuel-fired appliances or attached garages to install the devices. The new rule would apply to federally subsidized public housing that meets those guidelines.

HUD said that it would use a formal rulemaking process to require the carbon monoxide detectors. That means the agency must release the proposed rule for public comment and respond to the input before it can take effect — a process that typically takes months, sometimes years.

In the meantime, HUD is encouraging landlords of federally subsidized housing "to make certain they have working CO detectors in all their housing units/buildings" in states where the devices are required. HUD also "strongly encourage[s]" landlords to install detectors to protect residents in places where the detectors are not required by state or local law, the agency said in a notice released Thursday.

"Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home," HUD said in the notice. Because of this, the memo continued, "a device — a CO detector — is necessary to determine the presence of high and dangerous concentrations of CO in a residence."