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Your landlord's obligations to prevent the silent killer's attack

If you and your family live in a rented property, your landlord has specific responsibilities that include maintaining safe premises for you and your guests. During the cold New Jersey winter months, the obligations involve more than snow and ice removal with the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning added to the risks. Neglect to do the required maintenance on heating systems and carbon monoxide detectors before winter sets in can have devastating consequences.

Thousands of people nationwide suffer carbon monoxide poisoning every year, and many of them do not survive. The gas is typically undetectable by humans because it is colorless and has no odor. It is also known as the "silent killer" because it frequently overcomes people in their sleep.

Sources of carbon monoxide

This deadly gas comes from burning fuel in vehicles, portable generators, stoves, small engines, grills, lanterns, fireplaces, furnaces and gas ranges. These are all frequently used objects in the winter, and when there is a buildup of carbon monoxide in enclosed spaces, animals and humans who breathe it are at risk of poisoning. The dangers exist even if the room has ventilation.

What are the risks?

Those who survive carbon monoxide poisoning could suffer permanent neurological damage, and anyone is at risk. However, older adults and infants are at a higher risk, along with individuals who have breathing or respiratory problems, or those with anemia or chronic heart diseases.

Obligations of the landlord

Based on the recommendations of the National Safety Council, the owner of your rental property must install carbon monoxide detectors near all the bedrooms in your home. One must check the batteries of these devices at least twice a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that property owners ensure tenant safety by doing the following:

  • Check the carbon monoxide detectors and alarms for defects and replace batteries at the times when they change their clocks each fall and spring.
  • Arrange for the servicing of installed or provided coal- or gas-burning appliances, water heaters and heating systems by qualified technicians before the cold sets in each year.
  • Make sure generators in the home, garage or basement are closer than 20 feet from a door, vent or window. However, operating generators indoors is risky because, even with ventilation, carbon monoxide can build up to fatal levels within minutes.
  • Do not allow the indoor use of portable chemical heaters that are flameless.
  • Ensure proper venting of gas appliances.
  • Have the chimney checked and cleaned before the first use of the fireplace every year.

You can also take precautions such as not leaving your vehicle idling in the garage, avoiding use of the gas oven to warm the kitchen, and learning to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Your legal rights as a tenant

If you or a loved one suffered carbon monoxide poisoning this winter as the result of your landlord's negligent maintenance of your rented home, you might have grounds to pursue financial relief. An attorney who has experience in fighting for the rights of tenants in New Jersey can assess the circumstances and determine the viability of a premises liability claim. If you proceed with a civil lawsuit, the lawyer can provide the necessary support and guidance in pursuit of damage recovery for economic and noneconomic damages.

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