Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Understanding the new regulations

On 1 October 2015, new regulations came into force in England regarding the fitting of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Most people will be familiar with the government’s Fire Kills campaign and the importance of having a working smoke alarm in every home. Statistics show you are at least four times more likely to die in a fire in the home if there is no working smoke alarm.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas, produced when fuel burns without enough air, and exposure to high levels of CO can be fatal. To find out more, you may want to visit CO-Awareness, a registered charity.

To help reduce the risks from fire and carbon monoxide, the government has introduced new regulations requiring alarms to be fitted in every private rented home. Yes, all of them, not just houses in multiple occupation.

Get things wrong and the landlord could face a penalty of up to £5,000! To help you understand the new rules, we have prepared this short summary that you may find useful.

1. What action do landlords need to take?

Every private rented property needs to be fitted with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms (if applicable) by 1 October 2015, so the timescale for compliance is very short.

Smoke Alarms

The requirement is to install at least one smoke alarm on every storey of the rental property on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation. The definition of room inlcudes a bathroom or toilet. 

The regulations don’t say whether these should be hard wired or battery powered smoke alarms.

The regulations also don’t say where the smoke alarms should be located. Government guidance is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and that smoke alarms should normally be fitted to the ceiling in a circulation space – i.e. on a landing or in a hallway.

If you are unsure what is most appropriate for your property, you may need to seek further advice.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

If there is a solid fuel burning combustion appliance such as a coal fire or wood burning stove, a carbon monoxide alarm must be fitted in that room.

Whilst not part of the legislation, the guidance states that 'In the Department's view, a non-functioning purely decorative fireplace would not constitute a solid fuel burning appliance'. You might want to add a clause to the tenancy agreement to make clear that such a fireplace must not be used. There's no harm installing a CO alarm as well, if you want to. 

The regulations don’t say where the carbon monoxide alarms should be located. Government guidance is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and that carbon monoxide alarms should normally be located at head height either on a wall or shelf, approximately 1 to 3 meters away for the solid fuel burning appliance.

It is important that they are securely fixed in place so they are not moved or misplaced by the occupants.

2. What happens at the start of a new tenancy?

There is a requirement for the landlord (or someone acting on their behalf) to ensure that the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms (if any) are in good working order on the first day of the tenancy.

Landlords need to think carefully about how they record this information for future reference. For example, you might decide to ask the tenant to sign an inventory or other document to confirm that the alarms were present and working correctly when the tenancy started.

The regulations don’t say who should carry out the checks or how it should be done, so if you are unsure, you may need to seek further advice.

3. How will the new rules be enforced?

All local housing authorities in England are responsible for enforcing these new regulations.

If the council is satisfied that the landlord has failed to comply with the requirements, they can serve a remedial notice requiring the landlord to fit and/or test the alarms within 28 days.

If the landlord fails to comply with the remedial notice then the council can issue the landlord with a civil penalty notice of up to £5,000. The council must also arrange to carry out the work specified in the remedial notice, to make sure that the tenants are safe. 

If the landlord does not agree with the civil penalty notice they can write to the council and request a review within 28 days of the notice being said. After that, if they are still unhappy they can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

4. How can I find out more?

The government have produced a helpful guide to the new regulations (DCLG: Q&A Booklet for the Private Rented Sector – landlords and tenants: Sept 2015) that you can view here.

If you want to refer back to the legislation, the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 can be viewed here.

While stocks last, landlords may be able to claim free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms from London Fire Brigade. More information here.

If is important to remember that compliance with these regulations does not necessarily mean that the property has been provided with an acceptable level of fire precautions.

If the property is a house in multiple occupation, you may still need to provide a higher standard of fire precautions appropriate to the size, layout and occupancy of the property, under the Housing Act 2004. You may also need to carry out a fire risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. To find out more, please visit our Fire Safety page.

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