Radon is a radioactive, odorless gas naturally found in soil and groundwater—it has long been a concern for public health. Recognized by authorities such as the U.S. Surgeon General and the World Health Organization, as a carcinogenic toxin, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It is responsible for approximately 500 deaths annually in Colorado alone.
How Radon Enters Homes
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium in the soil and rocks beneath the Earth's surface. Here's how it can enter homes:
- Soil: The most common source. Radon seeps through cracks and gaps in the foundation or walls in contact with the soil.
- Water Supply: Particularly in well water, radon can be released into the air when water is used for showering or other household purposes.
- Construction Materials: Some building materials, though less commonly, can emit radon, but this is usually a minor source compared to soil and water.
- Air Pressure: Lower air pressure inside the home than the soil around the home's foundation can draw radon indoors.
- Natural Ventilation: Radon can enter through windows and doors if the outdoor air contains radon (less common).
Think of your home as a vacuum, sucking in radon from the ground. Especially in poorly ventilated homes, radon can accumulate to harmful levels.
When to Worry: Understanding Radon Levels and When to Act
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends reducing radon levels in homes with a radon level at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. It's worth noting that the EPA does not describe any level of radon exposure as "safe," but the 4 pCi/L level is where the agency recommends taking corrective action.
Given the gravity of the risks, the Colorado State Senate has taken decisive action to protect its residents by enacting SENATE BILL 23-206. This legislation significantly expands the scope of radon disclosure laws, setting rigorous new protections and guidelines that impact tenants and landlords.
When to Test
Radon experts recommend different testing based on the history of radon in a particular property. Here's a breakdown of recommendations for the State of Colorado:
- Every 5 years: The home has been tested, results were below 4 pCi/L, and no mitigation system has been installed
- Every 2 years: If the property currently has a system
- As Soon as Possible: The home has never been tested
The recommendation to test regularly exists for a couple of reasons. First, radon levels can fluctuate over time due to changes in soil composition, water tables, or even construction activity nearby. A test a few years ago may not accurately reflect the current situation.
Second, seasonal variations can significantly affect radon levels. For example, radon tends to accumulate in higher concentrations during winter when homes are sealed off from the outside. This can create a false sense of security if a test is conducted during a season when radon levels are typically lower.
Regular testing ensures that you can take timely action if levels rise above the recommended safety limits, thereby protecting the health of all occupants.
Introducing Senate Bill 23-206
SENATE BILL 23-206 is a comprehensive update to Colorado's radon disclosure laws, enhancing transparency and safety in residential property transactions. It's a legislative effort to regulate the presence of radon, an odorless, radioactive gas linked to lung cancer, in homes across Colorado.
This bill mandates that landlords disclose whether a property has been tested for elevated radon levels, among other critical information. The legislation also enforces tenants' rights to know about radon risks before signing a lease.
It introduces the possibility for tenants to void a lease if landlords do not comply with these disclosure requirements. By setting these measures, the bill aims to minimize radon-induced health risks by ensuring that homebuyers and renters are well-informed before making a housing decision.
Before the enactment of SENATE BILL 23-206, Colorado's approach to radon primarily catered to homebuyers rather than tenants. Real estate transactions often included a radon advisory clause that informed potential buyers of the risks associated with radon exposure and recommended that they conduct tests before purchasing a home.
However, no explicit protections were in place for tenants that mandated landlords to disclose information about radon levels in rental properties. While buyers had some safeguards through contractual advisories, renters navigated a more ambiguous landscape with less clarity and protection. SENATE BILL 23-206 aims to change this imbalance by introducing explicit disclosure requirements for landlords, thereby leveling the playing field for buyers and renters.
Key Features and Legislative Updates
Inclusion of Tenants: Perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect of this bill is its inclusion of rental properties. Unlike before, landlords must now provide tenants with radon disclosures before signing a lease. This plugs a significant gap, as tenants were largely overlooked in prior radon regulations.
Tenant Rights: If landlords don’t comply with the new radon requirements, tenants can void the lease. This is a powerful incentive for landlords to comply with the new legislation, giving tenants a recourse mechanism.
Warranty of Habitability: The bill integrates the issue of radon into Colorado’s warranty of habitability laws. Non-compliance with the new radon disclosure requirements can result in landlords breaching this warranty, adding another layer of tenant protection.
Real Estate Commission’s Role: The bill tasks the Real Estate Commission with creating rules to implement these new disclosure requirements, thereby involving a regulatory body to oversee and ensure compliance.
Exemptions Clarified: Individuals testing or mitigating radon in their own homes are exempt from these regulations. This provides a clear exemption pathway that was not explicitly stated in prior laws.
Effective Date: The law takes effect 90 days after the general assembly adjourns unless a referendum petition is filed. It applies to contracts and leases entered into after this date, making it a forward-looking regulation.
In summary, SENATE BILL 23-206 considerably updates and expands existing radon laws in Colorado. It shifts from mere advisories to explicit requirements, expands protection to renters, and imposes greater obligations on sellers and landlords, thereby offering a more comprehensive approach to managing radon risks.
New Implications for Tenants and Landlords
Tenants' Right to Know: One of the major shifts with SENATE BILL 23-206 is that tenants now have a legal right to know if a rental property has been tested for radon. This adds a layer of transparency that was previously missing and largely focused on homebuyers.
Landlord Disclosures: The bill mandates landlords provide detailed radon disclosures to prospective tenants if they know of any radon tests and the results before signing a lease. This is significant because landlords are now legally obligated to be transparent about radon risks and any mitigation measures are taken.
Ability to Void Leases: The legislation empowers tenants to void a lease if the landlord fails to meet radon disclosure and mitigation requirements. This is a major leverage point for tenants, allowing them to take decisive action if their safety is compromised.
Integration into Warranty of Habitability: Perhaps the most impactful aspect of this new law is incorporating radon issues into Colorado’s warranty of habitability. If a landlord fails to comply with radon disclosure requirements, they effectively breach this warranty, offering tenants another layer of legal protection.
In summary, SENATE BILL 23-206 greatly enhances protections for tenants while holding landlords more accountable for radon disclosures and mitigation. It closes existing gaps in legislation by extending key features initially designed for homebuyers to the rental market. It's a win for tenant safety and a call for greater responsibility for landlords.
Concluding Thoughts and Suggestions
SENATE BILL 23-206 represents a significant milestone in Colorado's approach to radon safety, particularly for tenants. While previous regulations primarily catered to home buyers, this legislation extends crucial protections to renters, making the rental landscape more transparent and accountable.
For landlords, the bill necessitates an update in disclosure practices and incorporation of radon safety into the very fabric of the leasing agreement vis-à-vis the warranty of habitability. To prepare for these changes, landlords should act proactively by conducting radon tests, updating lease agreements with the required disclosures, and familiarizing themselves with tenants' new rights.
On the other hand, tenants should educate themselves on this bill's provisions, ask the right questions before signing any lease, and be aware of their new rights, including the ability to void a lease if landlords fail to comply. Essentially, this bill prompts a paradigm shift, making radon safety a collective responsibility rather than a one-sided affair.