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May 4, 2010

What Makes a Healthy Home in Your State?

NCSL compiles a list of state residential health and/or housing codes

Mandating carbon monoxide detectors. Making homes accessible to the disabled. Requiring certified renovators to protect children from lead-based paint hazards. These are just a few examples of the many health-based landlord-tenant laws adopted by states.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), along with the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), have collected state landlord-tenant codes that address health concerns in housing.

These 'healthy housing' codes set the minimum standards for rental property and assigns specific duties for landlords and tenants, and to a certain extent, private housing. The codes have been categorized into energy efficiency; home safety and security from crime; moisture and weatherproofing; notices and disclosures; occupancy and access; pest control and extermination; smoke and carbon monoxide alarm codes.

Only the landlord and the tenant can enforce their rights under landlord-tenant law. Government agencies typically cannot enforce the law. In addition, the law does not apply to owner-occupied housing. All but North Dakota have a landlord-tenant law.

Therefore, if a government agency seeks to address problems on property that affect resident or neighborhood health, safety or welfare, the government agency relies on health or housing codes or on laws that deal with specific issues such as lead-based paint or carbon monoxide detectors. Health or housing codes are typically comprehensive. Health codes – sometimes referred to as sanitation codes – are typically enforced by a health department. Housing codes – sometimes referred to as property maintenance codes – are typically enforced by the building code, housing code, or community development department. In the absence of a health or housing code, many health departments can act using their broad authorities to control public nuisances.

Half of the states permit their regulatory agency to revise the codes. The rest require the state legislature to act.

Members of the media and public may access NCSL's Healthy Homes page on our website. For further assistance, please contact NCSL's Press Room.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.