Could You Be Sued for Tenant Exposure to Radon?
It is a property owner’s responsibility to ensure that their rental home is safe and habitable. If radon is found to be a problem in the home, a landlord can be held liable for exposing their tenant to it. Radon can be a problem in any home at any time. No matter if your rental home is new or old, or with or without a basement, it could still potentially develop toxic levels of radon. Knowing how to check for the presence of radon and what to do if you find it can help keep your tenants safe as well as prevent unwanted lawsuits.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is a radioactive gas that is found in nearly all types of soil. It is produced by the natural decay of uranium, and often moves up through the ground and into the air. These soil gases are the main cause of radon problems in residential properties. When radon gets into a home through cracks in the foundation or other places, it can get trapped inside the house and build up to toxic levels over time. Exposure to these high levels of radon is when it can become a serious health problem.
Radon is a known carcinogen, causing lung cancer in individuals with high levels of exposure over time. But there are no immediate symptoms from radon exposure, and no way to detect it without conducting a radon-specific test for it. There is nothing to suggest that radon causes any kind of respiratory or other symptoms, and unless you specifically test for it, you probably wouldn’t even know it was there. Lung cancer often doesn’t occur for years after being exposed to radon, often between 5 and 25 years later.
However, not knowing about a radon problem in your rental problem will not be enough to protect you from liability should a tenant get sick. Particularly if your tenant has asked about it or your property is located in an area naturally rich in uranium, it is a good idea to test your rental home regularly for the presence of radon. Test kits like the ones offered by Kansas State University’s National Radon’s Program Services are relatively inexpensive and simple to complete.
To be absolutely sure, however, some landlords prefer to hire a professional contractor certified by the EPA to test for radon in their rental homes. If radon is detected in your rental home, there are both short-term and long-term solutions to the problem. Airing out the house and ensuring it has proper ventilation is one of the best short-term ways to respond to a positive radon test. But this may only be a temporary fix. To prevent radon from building up inside the house again, it is important to seal the home’s foundation or, if the problem is extensive, to add a radon venting system to help redirect soil gases away from the house and out into the air. A certified contractor can tell you which method your property needs, as well as make specific recommendations for future prevention.
For property owners who fail to test or to take immediate action to address a radon problem, there are serious legal implications. Simply having radon present in a rental home may render the home uninhabitable due to the serious health risks involved. While only a few states have laws that specifically address landlord responsibilities concerning radon, tenants in every state will have many legal ways to respond to a property owner who does not properly address a radon problem. If the source can be traced back to your property, you risk being sued not just for your tenant’s personal injury, but issues related to negligence as well.
Knowing whether or not you need to test your property for the presence of radon can be difficult. But when it comes to your tenant’s health and safety, it is often better to be safe than sorry and possibly sued.
Dealing with radon testing and prevention can take an extensive amount of time and effort. That is why Real Property Management offers you regular property evaluations as part of our comprehensive services. We can ensure that your property is carefully checked and any problems corrected as efficiently as possible, helping to keep your liability low and your property protected. Please contact your nearest Real Property Management office for more information.