This article no longer applies as these regulations have been published and brought into force in England. Please see this article for full details of the final regs.

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 contain the draft proposals which will require landlords to install and check smoke and CO alarms.

 

The proposals apply to England only and will commence from 1 October 2015.

 Installation of alarms

Regulation 4 contains the main requirements and provides that a landlord must ensure that –

  • a smoke alarm is equipped on each storey of the premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation and
  • a carbon monoxide alarm is equipped in any room of the premises which is used wholly or partly as living accommodation and contains a solid fuel burning combustion appliance

When determining a storey or room, a bathroom or lavatory is to be treated as a room used as living accommodation. As a result, a half landing containing a bathroom or toilet alone would be counted as a storey and require a smoke alarm.

The duty appears (in current draft form) to apply to all tenancies (existing and new) from 1 October 2015.

The duty will apply to all types of tenancy or licemce with a very limited number of exemptions. One exemption is where there are lodgers in a landlords own home.

Checking alarms

There is a further obligation to ensure that – (my highlights)

checks are made by or on behalf of the landlord to ensure that each prescribed alarm is in proper working order on the day the tenancy begins if it is a new tenancy.

We have no objection to requiring a check before a new tenant moves in but this seems a little extreme that the check must be done “on the day the tenancy begins”.

Student agents would have a great deal of trouble with this because they could easily have in excess of 200 students moving in on exactly the same day. Or, how is the 80 year old landlord with one property going to achieve this? Take a ladder with them “on the start day of the tenancy”?

For example we personally have many flats that we rent and it is not fair to ask us to check “on the day” because we already have a routine of regular checking all our smoke alarms and it’s not just a simple “press of a button” when you have proper mains fitted smoke alarms. Why do I need to do yet another check when it was done only a week earlier whilst the property was empty during viewings for example? In any event, the smoke alarms will be regularly checked throughout the tenancy anyway.

The next problem is what does “proper working order” mean? We can assure you on a CO alarm, pressing the button in no way whatsoever checks whether the device is working. It simply checks the sounder is working and nothing more. I for one will not be carrying around poisonous carbon monoxide to carry out a check on the alarm so I would like to know how to do checks. I have emailed the charity CO Awareness the question of how to test a CO alarm and have been met with silence despite them being very keen and active to get an alarm fitted!

Further, will the pressing of the button be sufficient in respect of smoke alarms? We test all our alarms with very special smoke spray and then time how long it takes to react. That is how to properly test a smoke alarm. What I don’t know though is whether pressing the test button on a battery type smoke alarm is equally sufficient.

It is submitted the checks should be clarified in the regulations. If the test button being pressed is sufficient then they should say so. If the test button alone is not sufficient, the regs should stipulate with more precision what would be acceptable in respect of “proper working order”. It should also stipulate a more reasonable date for checks such as if it was checked within six or three months of a new tenancy, further checks wouldn’t need doing again.

To simplify, there could even be a distinction between a “mains powered” alarm (that may have battery backup) and a smoke alarm which has a “replaceable battery” (many smoke alarms are on a 10 year battery which can’t be replaced and are simply disposed of – hence the suggested term “replaceable”). An insistence to check the “replaceable battery” is in working order before a new tenancy to ensure any previous tenant hasn’t removed the battery would be sensible. However, the same regime for a mains powered or long life battery shouldn’t be necessary in our view as long as there is some testing routine in place or the alarm was checked recently.

Checking that it works on the day the tenancy begins only applies to a ‘new tenancy’ which means if it was granted on or after 1 October 2015. This requirement to check does not apply to a renewal where the landlord, tenant and premises are the same as previously let, nor does it apply if the tenancy becomes statutory periodic.

Enforcement

The regulations propose that where a local authority has reasonable grounds that a breach has occurred, they must serve a remedial notice in the first instance requiring the landlord to take action within 28 days.Where the landlord still fails, the local authority may obtain consent from the occupier to enter and install the necessary smoke or CO alarm as appropriate. The landlord will be liable to a penalty not exceeding £5,000.There are provisions for a landlord to appeal throughout the process.

Comment

Apart from clarifying the checks required, the overall legislation seems sensible to us. Except sprinkler systems, nothing save lives more than a smoke alarm although in our own experience where we had a fire in a property after we had installed a smoke alarm many years ago, the tenant had removed the battery for a toy for their child!Our advice therefore is to install mains powered interlinked alarms with battery backup. If that’s not possible, then the 10 year battery smoke alarms are best because the batteries can’t be removed and the alarm is disposed of after 10 years.Over a 10 year period when you take into account the cost of replacement batteries (annually for regular battery smoke alarms), the long-life alarms will usually work out cheaper.

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