Fines of up to £5,000 could be levied on private landlords who don’t fall into line with laws introduced from October 1st 2015.
The rules are The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015. They apply to landlords in England (the rules don’t apply in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland), and update rules that say properties built before 1992 didn’t have to have smoke alarms. The rules are designed to be part of efforts to improve fire safety throughout the UK by ensuring that all rented properties are fitted with alarms to detect smoke and carbon monoxide.
The rules apply to the immediate landlord, who may be the owner of the building, but could equally be someone who is sub-letting part of a property.
The affected premises
The law covers rented properties in which people live, even if they rent only part of it. For example, if a shop owner rents a flat above the shop, the building comes under these rules. However, the property has to be let under a specified tenancy agreement or a licence, and where someone is paying rent to use it as their main residence.
This covers tenanted houses, flats and bedsits. Homes in houses of multiple occupations (known as HMOs) are covered separately.
In certain circumstances properties may be exempt from the regulations. These are the ones in which amenities such as a toilet, personal washing facilities, a kitchen or living room are shared between tenants and the landlord or members of the landlord’s family. Others which are excluded are:
- Tenancies on a long lease granting rights of occupation for seven years or more
- Social housing owned by landlords who are registered providers
- Student halls of residence
- Care Homes
- Any accommodation relating to health care provision
If the building is rented under a licence agreement that doesn’t have requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, then from October 1st became the role of the licence holder to make sure they are fitted.
If the property is registered as a house of multiple occupation (known as an HMO) then its licence should already have that requirement written into it.
Smoke alarms and their locations
The law says a smoke alarm must be fitted on every storey where at least one room is used wholly or partly as living accommodation of any kind. For the purposes of this definition halls and landings are included.
On any floor sub-divided into separate units occupied by multiple tenants, an alarm should be fitted either in each unit, but a communal one on a landing outside the flats on the same floor is also acceptable.
If a flat itself is on more than one storey, alarms should be fitted on all floors. The rules point out that it is crucial to position the alarm where it can be heard by everyone on that particular storey.
Although the regulations don’t specify what type of alarm should be fitted, it’s suggested that the best option would be for a hard-wired type so that the batteries can’t be removed rendering the alarms useless. Stand-alone types are acceptable, but it’s recommended that models with a 10-year battery life should be chosen.
- If there is one alarm per floor, best practice suggests that the downstairs hallway should have an optical smoke alarm, and that the other floors should have ionisation smoke alarms.
- Make sure the alarm can be heard from all bedrooms
- Put alarms at least 30cms from walls
- Put alarms at least 30cms away form light fittings or other ceiling fittings
Carbon Monoxide alarms
From October 1st 2015 every property, occupied under licence or tenancy, with an appliance that burns solid fuel must have a carbon monoxide detector in the same room as the appliance. This covers:
- Open fires
- Wood burners
Before October 1st it was a requirement of Building Regulations that Carbon Monoxide detectors had to be fitted whenever new appliances like this were installed. Crucially, the new law has been extended to cover rooms that already have solid fuel-burning appliances, all of which are required have detectors installed.
Carbon Monoxide detectors should be placed:
- Between two and four metres away from the appliance
- About 1.5 metres from the floor
- Away from door and windows
- Where they can be heard from all bedrooms
The Regulations make it plain that it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure detectors are fitted and working at the start of any new tenancy on or after October 1st 2015.
However, the Regulations exclude:
- Tenancies where the agreement was reached before that date
- A new tenancy involving the same landlord and tenant in the same premises, starting at the end of an existing tenancy
- Periodic statutory tenancy at the end of a fixed-term shorthold tenancy
This means that there is no legal duty to check the alarm in any of those circumstances, but we would suggest it provides an opportunity to do so for peace of mind of both tenant and landlord, and satisfies an ongoing requirement to see that the detectors are working. The Regulations say that this must be done by the landlord or someone on their behalf. This would usually be the tenant.
It is good practice to have a simple document that can be signed by tenant and landlord to say a) that the alarms were fitted and working at the start of the tenancy, and b) that the responsibility for testing falls on the tenant, even though rectifying faults is the landlord’s responsibility.
These Regulations will be enforced by local authorities. When a local authority believes a landlord in its area is not complying with the law it has 21 days to serve a remedial notice. This will tell the landlord what needs to be done, and give him or her 28 days to do it, or to explain why it hasn’t been done. In the latter case, the landlord is required to show that reasonable attempts have been made to comply, and indicate why they failed.
For example, the tenant might have refused them access. If the local authority believes the landlord has failed to comply, it has six months to impose a penalty charge of up to £5,000.