The Smoke Alarm Regulations, established in October 2015, are clear-cut in the responsibilities placed upon landlords. But there are obligations placed upon tenants regarding the maintenance of the alarms and given that a 1/3 of the UK have never tested their smoke alarm, we thought we’d lay out both parties’ responsibilities:
Private sector landlords must install a smoke alarm on every storey of their buy-to-let property, plus a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance (i.e. a coal fire or wood burning stove, although it’s advisable to install one near gas appliances too.) The requirements to fit alarms apply to all tenancies, new or existing. Most residential tenancies, leases and licenses are included in the regulations, but there are a few exceptions. Licensed HMOs are not included, unlike unlicensed HMOs, as they must comply with separate fire safety regulations. Social housing landlords and live-in landlords are also not included, but should still ensure the safety of their tenants.
Landlords, or representative agents, must ensure all alarms are working properly at the start of a new tenancy, on the day the tenant moves in. The move-in date is defined as the start date of the tenancy stated in the tenancy agreement, even if a tenant moves in later. The requirement to check alarms are working upon commencement of the tenancy only apply to new tenancies, not those that are renewed. It’s advisable to obtain a tenant’s signature for them to confirm that the alarms were tested and working in their presence. This signature could be included on a document that also confirms they have received other legally required documents, which you can read about here, or include it in the inventory report.
Type of alarm
Landlords aren’t required to buy a specific type of alarm but can seek guidance from local fire departments. There isn’t strict guidance on the placement of alarms either, but manufacturer instructions should be referred to and it’s advised smoke alarms are fitted on a ceiling in a circulation space (i.e. a hall or landing) to ensure the alarm sound can be heard by sleeping tenants. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed on a wall or shelf at head height and between 1-3 metres from the fuel-burning or gas appliance, although you should always refer to manufacturer instructions if they differ.
The fine for non-compliance is up to £5000, which is enforced by local authorities. This isn’t an instant fine- landlords are given a 28-day remedial notice to fit and/ or test alarms.
After a landlord has supplied working smoke alarms as set out by the regulations, tenants become responsible for the maintenance. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be tested periodically to ensure they are still working, this can be done by simply pressing the button to sound the alarm. The UK Fire Service recommends the alarms are tested when the clocks change and batteries replaced every year. However, the Gov.uk guidance suggests occupants should test alarms monthly. Although it’s not a landlord’s responsibility to remind a tenant to test alarms are working, it is your investment and you may want to consider sending a text or email reminder to tenants.
Tenants should also report any issues with a smoke alarm, such as damage, promptly to their landlord so they can resolve the issue. Occupants are 4 times more likely to die in a fire where there are no working smoke alarms, so it’s imperative that tenants ensure alarms are working during a tenancy.
Tenants must allow access to landlords so they can comply with the regulations. Landlords may need access to install smoke alarms during an existing tenancy or to replace alarms. If your tenant refuses access, you will need to write to your tenant to explain your legal requirements and implications for their safety. You’ll also need to be able to prove attempts at access to avoid receiving a fine.
Having an alarm system in place in case of a fire or carbon monoxide leak is imperative, not just for legal compliance but for the safety of occupants and your property investment. Make sure to consider fire safety, such as clear escape routes, and gas safety compliance too.