Letter Urges HUD to Require Carbon Monoxide Detectors at All HUD-Assisted Housing

NLIHC and other organizations sent a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson urging him to require carbon monoxide detectors at all HUD-assisted housing. 

The letter calls on the HUD secretary to:

  1. Issue emergency guidance to public housing agencies (PHAs) and private owners of HUD-subsidized housing that:
    1. Requires the immediate installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all program units that have gas-powered appliances, generators, or other devices.
    2. Reiterates PHAs’ and owners’ obligations to adhere to state and local building and public health codes.
  2. Immediately propose rules amending the inspection standards in all of HUD’s programs to include the lack of a working carbon monoxide detector as an immediate “fail” item and a life-threatening emergency.

The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning occur almost immediately and can result in death in a matter of minutes. In addition, exposure to carbon monoxide can cause permanent brain damage, life-threatening cardiac complications, and fetal death or miscarriage.

For decades, HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) has warned about the dangers of carbon monoxide as a poisonous gas that can be fatal at high levels of exposure. HUD has yet to require, however, the use of carbon monoxide monitors in all of its housing programs. Federally assisted housing residents are therefore at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and subsequent death due to inspection practices that are not in line with prevailing science and the best practices described by OLHCHH and other federal agencies.

Since 2003, at least eleven federally assisted tenants have died from carbon monoxide poisoning, including two very recent deaths of public housing residents at the Allen Benedict Court in Columbia, SC. All 26 buildings at Allen Benedict Court were evacuated due to carbon monoxide leaks and exposure. Many of the Allen Benedict Court residents are still living in hotels or with relatives or are struggling to find housing that will accept vouchers. An NBC report on the project is at: https://nbcnews.to/2UfCv78A

Carbon monoxide detectors are already required for certain voucher-based units. And as recently as October 27, 2017, HUD issued regulations implementing the “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016” (HOTMA) provision that requires HUD to classify inoperable or missing carbon monoxide detectors as “life-threatening” violations of the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) for the Housing Choice Voucher and Project-Based Voucher programs. In addition, the Universal Physical Conditions Standards–Voucher demonstration project includes the lack of functional carbon monoxide detectors as a life-threatening condition. HUD’s incorporation of carbon monoxide detectors in its tenant-based rental assistance programs represents the agency’s acknowledgement of the life-threatening danger of carbon monoxide exposure. HUD should now extend these protections to all federally assisted homes to fulfill the statutory duty to provide safe and decent housing.

The letter to Secretary Carson was written by Emily Benfer, the director of the Health Justice Advocacy Clinic at Columbia Law School and Deborah Thrope, supervising attorney at the National Housing Law Project.

More about lead hazard control and healthy homes is on page 5-6 of NLIHC’s 2018 Advocates’ Guide.