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Council Considers Bill to Require Radon Test Prior to Home Purchase

The Montgomery County Council is considering a bill, proposed by Germantown-area (District 2) Councilmember Craig Rice that would require the seller of a single-family home to test for Radon and give the buyer a copy of the radon test results.

Radon is a radioactive gas found in the air that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. High levels of radon can cause serious illnesses and often occur in single family homes in the County. Although radon remediation from a single family home is possible, many people purchase a home without knowing if high levels of radon exist in the home.

“With radon, what we have found from advocates from the local Air Quality Advisory Committee is that areas in northern Montgomery County primarily register in the hot-spot zone when it comes to radon,” said Rice.

Radon is measured in picoCuries, a picoCurie is 0.000,000,000,001 (one-trillionth) of a Curie, an international measurement unit of radioactivity. One pCi/L means that in one liter of air there will be 2.2 radioactive disintegrations each minute. The average national indoor radon level is 1.3 pCi/L.

In areas of northern Montgomery County, according to Rice, the average radon level for a single-family home is double the national average.

Bill 31-15 would require the seller of a single-family home to test for radon and give the buyer a copy of the radon test results. It would also require the seller to provide the buyer with an estimate to reduce radon under certain circumstances.

“It is really a disclosure issue,” said Rice. “We don’t want sellers to have to mitigate radon problems but at least make buyers aware of the radon levels in a home. This is more of information for buyers when they are buying a home. Along the lines of a home inspection and some home inspectors do it anyway. This is just another step. Some states are requiring it.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency suggests that a home with a radon level reading of 4 pCi/L or more should consider radon mitigation to remove the high levels of radon from the air in the home.

“It is an air-quality issue,” said Rice. “It can be mitigated. It is actually pretty simple to mitigate. They drill down right through the basement or bottom level of the home and install a pipe with a fan that sends the gas out into the atmosphere.”

The radon bill was introduced by Rice to the County Council on June 16 and had its public hearing on July 14. The County Council received a letter of opposition to the proposed bill from the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, which represents property managers, realtors, and title attorneys in Montgomery County and the District of Columbia.

“Disclosure and mandatory testing requirements, which have not been thoroughly vetted, lead to confusion in the housing market and costly litigation,” said the letter from Meredith R. Weisel, from GCAAR. “It is not a required form but it has become common practice for many to automatically include it in all listing agreements so that the buyers can understand if there is a presence of radon or to gain more understanding about radon through a link provided to the EPA on radon. We would strongly recommend that this remain a ‘recommended’ form and not a mandatory form.”

GCAAR also point the fact that there are not enough certified radon testers in the Montgomery County. “While we believe that this bill has a lot of merit and radon is something that should be taken seriously, the real estate transaction is already a very difficult and complicated process today. The laws relating to sale and lease of a property are VERY distinct. Having another testing and disclosure form can lead to disorderly and complicated transactions,” said Weisel in the letter to the County Council.

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