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Renters may have noticed a new type of detection device — in addition to the standard smoke alarm — installed in their homes lately.

In recent years, there have been a number of tragic deaths from carbon-monoxide poisoning after people brought grills and propane heaters inside their homes during power outages. This has led to new legislation that requires installation of carbon-monoxide-detection devices.

As of Jan. 1, 2013, all rental-property owners are required to install carbon-monoxide detectors in every unit. This rule is without exception — even if there are no fuel sources or attached garages that could create a risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

As for smoke-detection devices, state landlord-tenant laws require that all maintenance, “including the replacement of batteries where required for the proper operation of the smoke-detection device, shall be the responsibility of the tenant, who shall maintain the device as specified by the manufacturer.”

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Tenants’ responsibilities for maintaining carbon-monoxide detectors are not specified within the landlord-tenant act.

However, standard lease agreements nearly always assign the duties of testing the device and maintaining its batteries to the tenant, just as it is with smoke detectors.

For rental properties with combination smoke/carbon-monoxide detectors, it’s a moot point. Tenant-required maintenance of the smoke detector will ensure both aspects of the unit function correctly.

Combinations detectors, while convenient for installation and maintenance, can lead to dangerous scenarios because both aspects of the unit rely on a single power source.

It’s not uncommon for many of us to disable a smoke detector while cooking because of smoke from burned food.

Unfortunately, disabling a combination detector also means it can’t measure carbon-monoxide levels in the house. This isn’t a problem if the battery is reconnected when the smoke has cleared, but how easy is it to forget to do that right away?

Tenants should also be aware that their obligation to maintain smoke detectors carries with it a fine of up to $200 if they are found to be out of compliance.

This typically occurs when the battery has been removed or not replaced by the tenant.

Lease provisions may extend this penalty to cover carbon-monoxide detectors as well, and can carry the penalty of lease termination due to the safety risks created by disabling detection devices.

The Seattle Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division recommends testing the detector monthly according to the manufacturer’s instructions, replacing batteries as specified by the manufacturer and regularly cleaning the alarm with a vacuum.

(Caution: If you live in an apartment building with wired-in smoke alarms, check with your landlord for correct testing and maintenance procedures.)

According to the Washington State Building Code Council, carbon-monoxide detectors must be located “outside of each separate sleeping area, in the immediate vicinity of the bedroom and on each level of the residence.”

Tenants whose rental units do not include carbon-monoxide detectors are encouraged to inform their landlords of their legal obligations under RCW 19.27.530.

The cost of a human life far outweighs the cost of a carbon-monoxide detector, as well as any liabilities a landlord could incur if a carbon-monoxide-poisoning death occurs at a property that doesn’t have a detector.

Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit

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