Legislation Introduced to Require CO Detectors in Public Housing

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) recently introduced the Safe Housing for Families Act to provide carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in HUD housing units. The bill follows recent reports of CO poisoning among residents of HUD housing, which has led to at least 11 deaths since 2003. Companion legislation also was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Chuy García (D-IL) and Joe Cunningham (D-SC).

Housing advocates and public health experts suggest that in spite of the clear dangers of CO poisoning, HUD has been slow to provide protections for these families. For decades, HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) has warned about the dangers of CO as a poisonous gas that can be fatal at high levels of exposure. But HUD has yet to require the use of CO monitors in all of its housing programs. Federally assisted housing residents are therefore at risk of CO 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.

Carbon monoxide detectors are already required in HUD’s voucher-based programs. And as recently as October 2017, HUD issued regulations implementing the “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016” (HOTMA) provision that requires HUD to classify inoperable or missing CO detectors as “life-threatening” violations of the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) for the Housing Choice Voucher and Project-Based Voucher programs.