More than four years after three people died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in a rented townhouse in Essex, Baltimore County officials announced Wednesday that they would introduce legislation to require that all rental dwellings in the county be equipped with carbon-monoxide detectors.
The bill is scheduled for a vote by the Baltimore County Council on Dec. 21 and, if it passes, would take effect 45 days later. From that point, landlords would have a year to install the detectors.
"If the people of Baltimore County do not feel safe where they live, work and shop, our neighborhoods will not thrive and our businesses will not prosper," the county's chief executive, James T. Smith Jr., said at a news conference in Towson.
The county Fire Department predicts that its personnel will respond to more than 1,400 carbon-monoxide incidents this year. In 2005, when three members of the Wiley family died in the Cove Village Townhomes complex, there were 895 recorded carbon monoxide incidents in Baltimore County, according to the Fire Department. Last year, there were 1,355.
"By the end of 2009, we will have transported twice as many patients to the hospital for exposure to carbon monoxide than we did in 2008," Smith said.
Asked why it had taken the county government more than four years to come up with the legislation, Smith said, "We didn't truly recognize the continuing issue until we got additional information."
Smith said there had been much to consider in the intervening years. "Things develop, more information occurs, we get a greater appreciation of the nature of the problem and the potential causes, and we get a greater opportunity to consider what is the best approach to the situation so that it will never happen again," he said.
A county spokesman, Donald I. Mohler III, forbade further questions.
State law requires all dwellings built after Jan. 1, 2008, to have carbon-monoxide detectors. Under the proposed legislation, all rental dwellings in Baltimore County built before that date must have carbon-monoxide detectors in the "common area outside of, and audible in, each sleeping area."
The bill would also enable people who are hearing-impaired to be provided with special detectors that would alert them to the presence of the gas.
"People need to know that their apartments and rental homes are safe, and they can't be worried every night when they fall asleep that they might not wake up in the morning," Joseph Bartenfelder, chairman of the Baltimore County Council, said in a statement issued by the county's public affairs office. "This legislation will give families that security."
At the news conference, Bartenfelder mentioned "several incidents" of carbon-monoxide incidents in Essex. "That's why we're moving forward at this time," he said, referring to the legislation.
Sawyer Realty Holdings, the College Park-based company that owns Cove Village and other similar properties, voluntarily began installing carbon-monoxide detectors in its apartments and townhouses after the deaths of Norman S. Wiley, 48, and his stepdaughters Sheriesa Bernay King, 15, and Ja-Na Liett Jones, 14, in July 2005.
Michael Field, an assistant county attorney, said violators of the new regulations would initially be issued a correction notice, which is not subject to appeal and which does not call for a fine.
If the violator does not comply with the correction notice, however, the code enforcement inspector may impose a fine of $200 per day for each day a violation persists.