Smoke, carbon monoxide detectors top list of housing violations in Kent

Matt Poe

Missing or non-working carbon monoxide detectors were reported in over a dozen homes in Kent over the last several months.

The violations were reported by the Kent City Health Department, which oversees the replacement of disabled detectors.

Kyle Kelly, a public health sanitarian for the City of Kent, said in March 2016 that the reason carbon monoxide and smoke detectors seem to be such an issue is due to technical issues on the department’s website.   

“Our standard guidelines are that we consider this something to check as soon as possible,” Kelly said. “For housing, we recently started putting the inspections online and every violation, until we get some of the glitches fixed, will show as non-critical.”

As of October 2016, the website still does not make a clear indication of what constitutes a critical and non-critical violation. Kelly said the system does not deviate between critical and noncritical violations, even though there are separate categories for the two violations.

“HealthSpace(.com) automatically labels all housing violations as noncritical because our department does not delineate between critical and noncritical housing violations,” Kelly said.

The health department’s webpage contains standard housing inspection procedures and reports, with violations separated into two categories: critical and non-critical. Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarm detectors listed as broken, missing or stolen are not considered a critical violation.

The report states that there have been at least 16 instances of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors damaged or missing since July 2016.

Kelly said he understands the importance of having proper detectors within houses, as both carbon monoxide and smoke can be deadly.

Tenants may remove smoke detectors to smoke tobacco, marijuana or simply because the batteries are low and the alarm will not stop, Kelly said, but it is unclear why tenants would remove carbon monoxide detectors.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas, making it extremely difficult for residents to detect without an alarm. The Kent City Health Department did not make carbon monoxide alarms a requirement for the housing code until 2014, Kelly said.

Kelly said there are times when landlords have not provided the detectors for tenants.

“If the furnace or hot water (systems) malfunction, that can be life-threatening and someone could die,” Kelly said. “So we definitely consider those critical violations, along with broken or missing fire extinguishers, or someone missing a front door.”

Not all violations college students and residents deal with are as severe: Some violations can be as simple as snow removal or grass height.

Paul Bauer, a code enforcement officer for Kent’s building services, directly oversees a majority of the issues and violations that tenants deal with outside of their homes.  

“We enforce city code that is not criminal, and also handle building zoning issues,” Bauer said.

Bauer and his department oversee the buildings themselves, exterior maintenance, issues with front steps and other general exterior problems. Bauer is also responsible for making sure cars have proper tags and are serviceable. His main issue — especially during the warmer seasons — is tall grass.

“In the summer, (the main issue is) definitely grass,” Bauer said. “The property tenant will get a warning, and typically a contractor will come and issue a bill — plus a $100 fine if grass is over 12 inches.”

Kelly said the health department could begin to assign critical and non-critical definitions in the future. Nevertheless, he continues to stress the importance of correcting housing violations.

“Tenants should never live in a home without these basic life safety measurements in place,” Kelly said.

Health Commissioner Jeff Neistadt could not be reached for comment.

For more information regarding services and departments available to students and residents in Kent, visit http://www.kentohio.org/index.asp. 

Matt Poe is a senior reporter, contact him at [email protected]