Are you compliant with smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations? - Total Landlord Insurance

September 29, 2022
Total Landlord Insurance
Are you compliant with smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations? - Total Landlord Insurance

There are more than 400 separate rules and regulations that apply to letting property and a huge number of those are concerned with the health and safety of tenants.

One of the laws that private landlords have to comply with is the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, which came into effect on 1 October 2015.

The current rules state that private rented sector landlords must:

  • Install at least one smoke alarm on every storey used as living accommodation
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation that contains a solid fuel burning appliance – e.g. a coal fire or wood-burning stove
  • Make sure that all alarms are in good working order at the start of each new tenancy (during the tenancy, it is the tenant’s responsibility to test the alarms)

However, in April 2022 the Government announced changes to these regulations, which are expected to come into force in England in October 2022:

  • CO detectors must be installed in any room with a fixed combustion appliance, such as a gas or oil boiler (gas cookers are excluded)
  • When a new fixed combustion appliance is installed in any home, a CO alarm must also be installed
  • Once landlords have been informed that a smoke or CO alarm is faulty, they are legally required to repair or replace them “as soon as reasonably practicable”

Testing alarms during the tenancy will still be the tenant’s responsibility.

These rules will also be extended to the social rented sector for the first time.

Rules on fire alarms in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

In England and Wales, HMOs must have:

  • A smoke alarm on each storey with living accommodation
  • A smoke alarm in each individual ‘unit’ – whether that’s a bedroom or bedsit
  • A heat alarm in high-risk rooms, such as kitchens

The alarms must be interconnected and mains powered. If the HMO is three storeys or higher, an appropriate alarm system with a central panel must be installed.

Landlords must also make sure the alarm system is kept in good working order and has maintenance carried out by a competent person as per the manufacturer’s instructions – commonly every six months.

Evidence of the regular checking/servicing of fire alarms must be provided to the local authority if they request it.

In Wales, the current rules are the same as in England. When the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 comes into force on 1 December 2022, the legislation around smoke and CO alarms is expected to continue to mirror England.

In Scotland, the regulations are slightly different. There must be at least:

  • One smoke alarm in the room most frequently used for general daytime living purposes
  • One smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey (i.e. hallways and landings) – or in a main room if there’s no landing
  • One heat alarm in every kitchen
  • One CO detector fitted in every space containing a fixed combustion appliance and in high-risk rooms (e.g. bedroom or living room) if a flue passes through it

All alarms should be ceiling mounted, and the smoke alarms should be interlinked.

In the year to December 2021, there were 27,015 primary dwelling fires in England alone – that’s an average of 74 a day! – with 210 fatalities. And, according to the Government, if a fire breaks out in your home, you’re around eight times more likely to die if there is no working smoke alarm.

In February 2019, a family of four was saved by a working smoke alarm that alerted them to a fire, which caused extensive damage to their rented home. The landlord, who had followed the regulations correctly and installed and maintained smoke detectors in the property, made the difference between life and death for the family.

So it really is imperative that you’re aware of your legal obligations as a landlord and make sure that all smoke and CO alarms are installed correctly and working properly to protect your tenants.

Further advice for landlords on smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors

  • Fire safety professionals recommend that smoke alarms should be fitted to the ceiling in the hall or landing on each floor, at least 30cms away from walls, light fittings or other ceiling fittings
  • Carbon monoxide alarms should be positioned at head height, between one and three metres away from the potential carbon monoxide source
  • You should always follow individual manufacturer’s instructions when installing alarms in your property to ensure they work correctly and are compliant – having them installed by a professional contractor may be the best option
  • At the start of each tenancy, test the alarms during check in and note it on the inventory, which the tenant will then sign
  • Even though it’s the tenant’s responsibility to make sure the alarms continue to work throughout their tenancy, it’s good practice for either you or your agent to test each alarm during periodical inspections

Read our separate article on how to reduce the likelihood of fire in your rental.

Battery powered or mains powered?

Currently, in England, you have the choice of battery-powered or mains-powered devices, so which option should you go for?

In the year to 31 March 2019, firefighters found that 38 per cent of battery-powered smoke alarms in homes where they attended fires did not sound an alert. Almost half of these failures were due to the alarms being incorrectly positioned, while 20 per cent had missing or wrongly fitted batteries.

Where mains-powered smoke alarms were installed – which was in around half of the homes attended by the fire service – a fifth still failed to sound when the property was on fire.

So, battery-powered units are cheaper (around £20-£25 each) and more straightforward to install, but you’ve got to make sure they’re positioned correctly and the batteries are fitted properly. There is also the risk that tenants might remove the batteries altogether. While a mains-powered system is more reliable, it’s clear that, in both cases, testing the alarms on a regular basis is key to keeping your tenants safe.

Carbon monoxide poisoning – the signs and symptoms

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, such as gas, wood, coal and oil.

In properties, CO leaks can come from any solid fuel-burning appliance, including gas and oil boilers, open fires and log burners. Leaks are most often caused simply by these appliances and their flues being incorrectly fitted, badly ventilated and/or poorly maintained.

When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from carrying sufficient oxygen to cells and tissues, with the heart and brain being particularly vulnerable. One of the reasons CO is so dangerous is that you can’t see, taste or smell it – and that’s why it’s so important to have working detectors/alarms in homes.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Anyone who’s exposed to CO – even in small quantities – will experience some symptoms:

  • Milder symptoms are fatigue, headaches and nausea, which can easily be confused with common ailments, such as a viral infection, flu or food poisoning
  • Moderate symptoms can include confusion, drowsiness and an increased heart rate
  • In the case of long term or severe exposure, victims can collapse, become unconscious and even die

If someone only experiences symptoms when they’re in the property and soon recovers when they leave, that can be a red flag that there’s a leak. Similarly, any pets living in the property may also be unwell.

So, make sure your tenants know the symptoms to look out for and are aware that any of the following could indicate there’s a CO leak:

  • Flames on a gas hob that are a lazy yellow or orange colour, rather than being a crisp blue
  • Dark staining on or around appliances
  • Pilot lights going out frequently
  • An increased amount of condensation on the inside of windows

Advise tenants that if they suspect a gas or CO leak, they should:

  1. Leave the property immediately and get into the fresh air
  2. Contact the landlord or agent
  3. Contact an emergency gas engineer

According to the Office of National Statistics there were around 20 deaths from accidental CO poisoning in England and Wales over the last three years. The figure dropped from around 30 deaths in 2015 and 2016, to around 20 deaths reported in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Although this doesn’t sound very many, if one was your tenant or a family and it costs less than £30 to protect them, this is obviously a price well worth paying.

So, make sure that all the fuel-burning appliances in your rented property are properly fitted and regularly safety checked by a qualified engineer, and remind your tenants to check that both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working throughout their tenancy, for their own safety.

Visit the Gas Safe Register website for more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and what to do if you or your tenant suspect a gas or CO leak in your property.

What happens if you fail to comply with regulations?

Local authorities can impose fines of up to £5,000 where landlords fail to comply with a remedial notice.

However, the biggest deterrent should clearly be the potential loss of life. Smoke, fire and carbon monoxide pose a huge danger to tenants and it’s always best to go over and above your legal responsibilities when it comes to their safety.

So, make sure every appliance and alarm is professionally installed, regularly serviced or tested, and that you respond immediately to any tenant concerns about safety in the property.  It is simply better to be safe than sorry.

Other fire safety regulations

The amended Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 only cover part of your fire safety responsibilities. Additional legislation includes Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which provide landlords with fire safety requirements designed to protect their tenants and property.

These include: carrying out periodical risk assessments, providing fire safe furnishings and ensuring tenants have access to escape routes at all times, and are covered in our separate article, How to reduce the likelihood of fire in your rental.

You can also find out more about your legal responsibilities as a landlord in Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know.

Protect yourself financially from the risks of fire and carbon monoxide

As a landlord, protecting your property from damage and ensuring you’re not left with a huge bill for repairs is extremely important. Fire can completely destroy a building and if your tenants are injured in your property, they could sue you for compensation.

The best way to protect your property and yourself against the risks involved in letting is by taking out landlord insurance that covers the specific requirements of your buy to let. Total Landlord Insurance prides itself on providing landlords with comprehensive cover should the worst happen, so take a look at our offering and call us on 0800 63 43 880 to discuss your requirements.

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