February 18

Landlords across Maine scrambling to test for radon

State law requires all Maine landlords to test for radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer, by March 1.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

If you rent an apartment or house, you should hear from your landlord by the end of March about the results of a radon test for the air in your home.

click image to enlarge

SPIKE IN WORK: Northeast Lab Services owner Rodney Mears holds two trays of water samples that will be tested for radon at the Winslow laboratory. Mears said the company used to do 6,000 samples a year and now does 6,000 samples a month.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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DUST: Jason Mills, of Maine Professional Inspections, collects a radon test at an apartment building in Augusta. A new state law requires apartment buildings in Maine to be tested for the cancer-causing gas.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below

Radon results

Tenants should check with their landlords to find out whether radon testing — required by March 1 — has been done. If they haven’t heard from their landlords, tenants should contact the state’s radiation control program at 287-5676.

But don’t hold your breath.

A state law first passed in 2009 requires the air, and the water if from private wells, in all residential rental buildings to be tested for radon — the colorless, odorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. The law originally required the testing to be completed by 2012, but a change in 2011 pushed the deadline back to March 1 of this year. The law was amended further last year to ease mitigation requirements.

It’s clear, however, that many landlords and property owners waited until the last couple of months to conduct the tests, according the head of the state radon program and testers and laboratories registered with the state. Others still might not be aware of the requirement.

“We’re getting 30, 40, 50 calls a day and an equal number of emails every day from landlords and building managers,” said Bob Stilwell, the radon section leader of the radiation control program in the Division of Environmental Health.

Before the law was amended last legislative session, only around 10 percent of the rental units in the state had been tested for radon, Stilwell said.

He expects that number to climb significantly once the division, which is under the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, receives the numbers for January.

Interviews with people in charge of testing and analyzing radon indicate the influx of property owners and managers requesting tests for rental units began last month and probably will continue through the March 1 deadline. Stilwell said he’s heard from many landlords that they won’t be finished testing until after the deadline because of backlogs with the registered testers.

“There seems to be a lot of folks out there trying to do the right thing, so I don’t expect to see huge number of noncompliance,” Stilwell said. “Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but there are tons of people asking about getting it done right now.”

RENTERS MUST GET RESULTS

Landlords or their representatives are required to notify current tenants within 30 days of receiving the test results and new tenants before signing a lease. If high levels of radon are found, the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease with a minimum of 30 days of notice if the landlord can’t or won’t mitigate the problem, according to Stilwell.

Landlords or property management companies not meeting requirements of the law can be fined not more than $250 per violation, although it’s not yet clear who will enforce the penalties, Stilwell said. Falsifying the results or not notifying the tenants, which also could include not doing the test at all, Stilwell said, is a breach of the implied warranty of fitness for human habitation, according to the law.

Tenants would be able to seek reparations or other remedies through the court system.

The original law required high levels of radon to be mitigated professionally within six months, but the Legislature removed that requirement last year because of concerns that mitigation would be too expensive for landlords.

Mitigation, commonly done by installing a ventilation pipe to draw air from beneath the basement slab outside the house, typically costs $1,200 to $1,500 for a single-family home, according to Stilwell.

Stilwell said tenants should check with their landlords to see if testing has been done because some landlords don’t realize they have to disclose the results. If they haven’t heard from their landlords, tenants should contact the radiation control program.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

TESTING: Northeast Lab Services employee Andrew McCaw removes vials of water that were tested for radon levels at the Winslow laboratory.

Staff photo by David Leaming

  


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