2015 | Real Estate

County Council Debates Controversial Radon Testing Bill

The bill mandates that homeowners test for the carcinogenic gas before selling or allow buyers to perform the test

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The County Council debated Tuesday a controversial bill opposed by area real estate agents that would require homeowners to test for radon gas before selling their home or permit the buyer to perform a test.

The council declined to vote on the bill Tuesday after council member Sidney Katz requested additional time to work on a couple of amendments. The council is expected to vote on the legislation Nov. 17.

If passed, the testing requirement would be the first of its kind in the country, according to a memo sent to the council from the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. The group wrote that mandatory testing requirements for radon could “lead to confusion in the housing market and costly litigation.” The association noted that many of its members already use a radon testing form that asks homeowners if the property has been tested for their listings and preferred that form to be recommended rather than mandatory.

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a known carcinogen and has been linked to higher rates of lung cancer, especially among smokers. The gas comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and typically enters homes through cracks or other holes in the foundation, according to the EPA. The EPA estimates exposure to radon contributes toabout 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States.

The bill is sponsored by council members Craig Rice and Katz.

“This is very much in line with what we do in Montgomery County,” Rice said Tuesday while referring to other first-of-its-kind legislation passed by the council, such as the general pesticide ban and trans fat ban. “We’ve taken a strong stand on cancer-causing health problems.”

Rice said he would not be willing to compromise on the Realtors association’s request to make the legislation about educating homeowners rather than mandatory testing. “By not making this mandatory and morphing this into an education campaign, we will leave people out and leave people at risk,” Rice said.

The county’s Office of Consumer Protection would enforce the bill, should it become law. A seller who does not perform a radon test or allow a buyer to do so would be subject to a civil violation with a $500 fine.

“It’s quite honestly going to be difficult to enforce in many ways,” Robert Drummer, a legislative attorney for the council, said Tuesday. He noted that if a buyer and seller don’t want to do a radon test, then there would be no one to file a complaint.

Testing kits are used to determine if a home has elevated levels of the gas. Kits can be purchased at hardware stores such as Home Depot for around $20 for a basic model. The kits are placed in the house for a couple of days and then sent to a lab, which measures the amount of radon in the home. Long-term tests are also available and they record radon levels in a home over a period of at least 90 days. These tests are considered more accurate by the Environmental Protection Agency.

High levels of radon are primarily remediated by installing a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls the gas from beneath a home and vents it to the outside, according to the EPA. Drummer said it generally costs about $1,000 per house for remediation.

The bill only applies to owners of single-family homes that are not part of a condominium or cooperative community. The legislation would require sellers or buyers to only use kits approved by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The council voted Tuesday to amend the bill to change the effective date of the legislation to Oct. 1, at the request of the Realtors association because that’s when the group typically makes contractual changes, according to council member Nancy Floreen.

The diagram above shows potential remediation measures for Radon and was taken from the EPA website.