As a landlord, every time you rent your property to a tenant, you expose yourself to some risk. There is a chance that an incident inside the rental will lead to the tenant suing you. Due to the litigious nature of contemporary American society, more tenants are initiating lawsuits against past or current landlords. The best way to protect yourself is by identifying the potential threats in your rental and dealing with them.
One such threat, which has been gaining attention lately is radon poisoning. This is a problem most landlords are completely unfamiliar with. As a result, MrClarksville.com warns, the majority of property owners don’t know what steps to take to protect their rental and the people who live in them.
What is radon poisoning? Can your property be at risk from this threat? What can you do to protect your tenants and investment? We answer all your questions in this post.
What is radon gas and radon poisoning?
Radon is a naturally-occuring radioactive gas that occurs in soil that is rich in uranium and certain types of rocks. It is created deep underground by the natural decay of uranium. After it is created, radon moves through the pores of the soil, travelling upwards until it reaches the surface. Once at the surface, the gas is released into the air and subsequently dispersed into the atmosphere.
Generally speaking, radon gas won’t reach dangerous levels if this occurs. However, if there is a building standing over the soil where the gas is being released, the building’s foundation will prevent the gas from escaping. Over time, radon collects beneath the home and starts to find its way into it through the cracks and pores in the foundation.
To further complicate things, radon gas seeps into the home and because modern homes are designed to limit air exchange with the outside, the gas can become trapped inside the building. This goes on until the gas builds to very high concentrations. Radon is harmful to people because when they inhale it, it continues to decay inside the lungs, releasing radioactive particles which can alter DNA and cause lung cancer.
Radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless; it can be present in a home without the occupants being aware. Radon has been categorized as a Class A carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and in the USA over 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused by radon.
Radon in rental properties
As far as your role as a landlord is concerned, the major issue with radon is that it can render your rental unlivable. When you rent your home to a tenant, you give them an Implied Warranty of its Habitability. This is an unwritten assurance that you have done and will continue to everything necessary to keep the home comfortable and safe for human habitation.
The presence of radon in a home renders it unsafe for human habitation and will make it possible for a tenant to make legal claims against you. This can happen whether you are aware of the presence of radon in the home or not. Although most states do not mandate landlords to test their rental homes for radon, you are not absolved if this problem is discovered.
Here are situations where a landlord may be liable for radon contamination of a rental property:
- The problem is common in the area
If your rental is located in an area where many of the homes have radon issues, it is expected that, as a landlord, you would take proactive steps to see if your property is also affected. To not do so would be considered negligent.
- A tenant has made inquiries in the past
If a tenant asks about the presence of radon in the property, it is expected that you should test the home in order to have an accurate answer. If you failed to do this, you may be charged with endangering that tenant.
- The home has a history of radon contamination
If the home has had past issues with radon, the previous owner should have disclosed this when you bought the home. If they did not, they will be liable. If they did and you didn’t take the right steps, you will be liable.
Is your rental at risk?
A home may have dangerous levels of radon gas if:
- It is built over rocky soil and soil containing uranium. Soils with the following materials will emit radon: shale, granite, phosphate, or pitchblende.
- The materials that a home is built from containing soils or rocks which emit radon.
- There is a well within the home or it uses well water.
Should you be worried about this problem?
Of the homes tested by the EPA, 26% had dangerously high levels of radon gas. This was a very slim sample of homes in the USA, which means the problem is more widespread than most people realize. There is only one way to be absolutely sure your rental is not affected and that is by doing a radon test. Radon tests are not expensive (typically around $150), but they should be performed by professionals with good quality equipment. Your local 3 Arrows Inspector is qualified to test for radon and uses cutting-edge Continuous Radon Monitor (CRM) devices that are calibrated by the manufacturer annually. More information can be found at our website.
There is no reason not to have your rental tested today for radon contamination; contact our office today and get peace of mind!
Thomas Recke is a Middle Tennessee licensed professional home inspector with 3 Arrows Property Inspection.