The Baltimore County Council unanimously enacted legislation Monday that will require rental property owners to install carbon monoxide alarms in all units heated by fuel-burning equipment as well as dwellings attached to an enclosed parking area. The measure takes effect in 45 days.

Landlords will have eight months to install the devices, which will make a distinct audible sound before the colorless, odorless gas reaches unsafe levels. The original bill had given property owners a year but Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder asked for an amendment shortening the time given "the rash of CO incidents" in the county recently.

"I want to shorten the window of compliance. Landlords may not be happy, but they can live with it," he said. "We are doing this so people can live with it."

Carbon monoxide inhibits the body's ability to absorb oxygen and is responsible for hundreds of deaths each year in the United States.

In 2005, three people died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a rented townhouse in Essex. That same year, the county Fire Department responded to 895 carbon monoxide incidents. Last year that number rose to 1,355 and fire officials expect it to exceed 1,400 this year.

Just this weekend, four people, including a baby, were taken to hospitals from a Fullerton apartment complex because of carbon monoxide poisoning. The previous weekend, firefighters found potentially lethal CO levels in a Middle River rental home.

State law already requires all dwellings built after Jan. 1, 2008 to have carbon-monoxide detectors. The county's new legislation includes all rental units built before that date in the requirement for detectors in the "common area outside of, and audible in, each sleeping area."

The county bill also mandates additional equipment to alert the hearing impaired to the presence of gas. Bartenfelder said the legislation is designed to make families feel safe in their homes.

Landlords must also provide information on alarm testing and maintenance to at least one adult tenant of each unit. The tenant is responsible for maintaining the device and for replacing its batteries.

Property owners who violate the new ordinance would initially receive a correction notice, but no fine. Failure to comply after the notice would authorize the code enforcement inspector to impose a fine of $200 per day for each day the violation persists.

In other action, Bartenfelder introduced a second bill to reform a pension policy that currently allows officials to retire with their full salary after 20 years of service. He said his bill will cap pensions at 60 percent of the officeholder's salary and would apply to current officials.

Council member Kevin Kamenentz previously introduced legislation that similarly would limit pensions to 20 percent of salaries for every four-year term in office, with a maximum of three terms. But Kamenetz' bill would not affect current council members.

Council members will discuss pension reform at their next work session in January.

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