Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector Requirements

Introduction

Since 1 October 2015 landlords in England have been required to:

  • ensure smoke alarms are installed in all of their rented residential accommodation, and
  • ensure carbon monoxide alarms are fitted in every room with a solid fuel heating appliance. This includes any open fireplace that is available for use i.ee not blocked off. 

The regulations apply both to houses and flats and also to HMOs; and are included in HMO licences. Failure to comply can lead to a civil penalty being imposed of up to £5,000.

These provisions only apply in England at the moment. However similar requirements are set to be introduced in Wales once the Renting Homes Wales Act is brought into force.

The following page will provide landlords with guidance on how to comply with this legislation and to ensure that properties are safe for tenants.

What are the requirements for smoke alarms?

During any period beginning on or after 1 October 2015, while the premises are occupied under a tenancy (or licence) the 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.

Rooms used as living accommodation include lounges, dining rooms, kitchens, bathrooms and separate toilets. It also includes a hall or landing.

Mezzanines are also likely caught by this legislation where they contain a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation.

For individual flats located on one floor there will have to be at least one alarm on each storey of the premises.

These regulations do not stipulate what kind of alarm is required. Ideally, it should be a mains-wired, interconnected alarm system as this is the modern standard. However, it can be a standalone battery-powered alarm.

Do bear in mind however that these are the minimum standard and may not be considered sufficient upon inspection. If you use a standalone battery-powered alarm then local authorities are likely to consider this a hazard upon inspection, requiring you improve it using their powers under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Heat detectors are not considered sufficient. It will have to be a smoke alarm.

What are the requirements for carbon monoxide alarms

Landlords must ensure that there is a carbon monoxide alarm fitted in any room that is:

  • used partly or wholly as living accommodation, and 
  • contains any appliance which burns, or is capable of burning, solid fuel.

This would include log and coal burning stoves and open fires, even if they are not normally in use, but does not include gas and oil boilers. If an open fireplace is purely decorative or blocked off then it is not covered by the regulations.

Do the CO alarm requirements apply to gas boilers?

While it is best practice to fit a carbon monoxide detector near a gas boiler, it is not required under these Regulations as gas is not a solid fuel.

Where should the alarms be placed?

The guidance suggests that landlords follow the alarm manufacturer's instructions. This will typically be at head height between 1-3 meters away from the solid fuel-burning source for carbon monoxide alarms and in a circulation point for smoke detectors.

Requirement to ensure the alarms are in working order

The landlord is specifically required to carry out a check to ensure that smoke alarms or carbon monoxide alarms are in proper working order on the day a tenancy begins where it is a new tenancy. 

For these purposes a new tenancy does not include a tenancy which was granted where the original agreement was entered into before 1 October 2015; this means it does not include renewals or periodic statutory tenancy which arises when a fixed term shorthold tenancy ends.

In our view, landlords should not be under a false sense of security because of this provision. Our interpretation of the regulation is that there is an ongoing obligation to ensure that any smoke alarm or carbon monoxide alarm installed to meet these requirements is in working order. Alarms should therefore be checked periodically to see that they are working properly.

Can tenants be made responsible for checking the alarms?

There is no reason why the responsibility to check the alarms are working cannot be placed on the tenant and the government guidance does suggest the tenant check monthly. However, the landlord will then have to make sure that the tenant does actually carry out the checks. If challenged, a landlord may have to show that a proper system has been put in place to check alarms regularly.

Who must comply with this requirement?

The requirements are imposed on the immediate landlord of the tenant. It also extends to any tenancies that were granted through subletting.

In addition, as this is now a mandatory licensing condition, if the property requires a mandatory, additional or selective licence, then it is the responsibility of the licence holder to ensure that these alarms are fitted in the property and in working order at the outset of the tenancy.

Which premises are affected?

These duties apply to almost all residential premisesĀ in the private rented sector. It also includes tenancies where the building is in mixed-use such as a flat above a shop.

Which premises do not require a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm?

There are various exemptions:

  • A tenancy under which the occupier shares any accommodation with the landlord or a member of the landlord's family. There must be sharing of an amenity which includes a toilet, personal washing facilities, a kitchen or a living room but excludes any reference to storage or access
  • A tenancy which is let on a long lease
  • Student halls of residence
  • Hostels
  • Care homes
  • Hospitals
  • Accommodation relating to health care provision

Who is responsible for enforcement?

The local authority is responsible for enforcement.

A local authority must serve a remedial notice within 21 days where they have reason to believe that the landlord is in breach of any of these duties relating to smoke alarms or carbon monoxide alarms. A remedial notice must specify the action to be taken within 28 days of the date of service of the notice. It allows the landlord 28 days to make representations against the notice.

The landlord must then take the required action within the period allowed. There is an excuse for a landlord for non-compliance with the notice if the landlord can show that he has taken reasonable steps to comply with the duty, but the landlord is not required to take legal proceedings. This could cover a situation where the tenant refuses access to allow the work to be done.

If the landlord fails to take action then the local authority must, if it has the necessary consent to do so, arrange for the work to be undertaken within 28 days of consent being obtained from the occupier. Therefore, if a local authority is also refused access by the tenant it cannot take the necessary steps itself.

Penalties

If the landlord is in breach the local authority may require the landlord to pay a penalty charge up to a maximum of £5,000. It has discretion whether or not to impose this charge and if intends to impose a charge, must serve a penalty charge notice within six weeks from when first satisfied that a breach has occurred. A right to make representations against the penalty notice is given and the local authority may reduce the charge for prompt payment.

For licensed properties, failure to comply with this regulation is a breach of a mandatory condition. This carries a potential civil penalty of up to £30,000.

Appeals

If the local authority upholds a penalty charge notice there is a right to appeal for the landlord to the First-Tier Tribunal. The grounds of appeal are:-

  • Local authority has made an error of fact or law
  • The amount of penalty charge is unreasonable
  • The decision to impose a penalty is unreasonable for any other reason

Payment of the penalty is suspended pending any appeal.

Local authority penalty policy

Each local authority must publish a statement of principles which will be followed in determining the amount of any penalty charge. This statement will be taken into account in deciding on an individual penalty for a particular case.