Hurry up and wait – the curious case of mandatory smoke and carbon monoxide alarms…

UKALA Executive Director, Richard Price reminds agents of their existing obligations and good practice with smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms, and tries to make sense of recent proposals.

The last Government set in motion proposals to require the installation of working smoke alarms in all properties in England, and carbon monoxide alarms in specified circumstances.

What do the proposals entail?

To begin, it’s prudent to note that at the time of writing (27/05/2015) these are still draft regulations and have yet to make their passage through both Houses of Parliament. However, the intention is to bring England’s private-rented sector into line with new build standards.  That would mean from 1 October 2015 smoke alarms will need to be installed on every floor of a property, and properly tested at the start of every tenancy. CO alarms will be required in high risk rooms where a solid fuel heating system is installed. Sanctions for not meeting the regulations will mean a penalty of up to £5,000.

What types of alarm will need to be fitted?

Well, it’s not entirely clear which types of alarms will need to be fitted as the draft regulations don’t actually specify this detail, and in discussions with civil servants it has been suggested to UKALA that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) does not plan to stipulate specific standards either. The decision will ultimately be down to the discretion of the landlord.

However, the draft regulations are clear on where alarms will need to be fitted. It states that a landlord must ensure:

  • a smoke alarm is equipped on each storey of the premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation;
  • 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;
  • 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.

The last point is particularly important for agents who offer full management services, as they will need to undertake checks on alarms for landlord clients.

Government support to install alarms

Around 445,000 smoke and 40,000 CO alarms are being made available free from fire and rescue authorities; financed by a purported £3m of grant funding from the government. All 46 fire & rescue authorities in England are expected to support the changes in their own areas so it may be worth reminding your landlord clients of their impending obligations, and to contact their local fire and rescue authority.

What is current regulation – and best practice – for ensuring fire and CO safety?

All landlords and agents have a duty of care to their tenants. Those who manage licensable properties, often also have specific duties stipulated. UKALA recommends that a regular fire risk assessment is carried out to identify what fire hazards exist, the level of risk to occupants and visitors, and what can be done to mitigate and control risks.

In addition, any furnishings provided must adhere to the fire safety standards and the property must have an adequate escape route. Whether letting an HMO or a one bedroom flat, a fire risk assessment should be carried out before a tenancy commences and comply with fire safety legislation throughout. Assessments can be carried out by local authorities, specialist companies or by agents or landlords themselves, and can be enforced by the local fire authority (for HMOs) or the local authority.

What systems should be installed to protect tenants?

Whilst the draft regulations relate only to providing a CO alarm where solid fuel systems are present, it is best practice to provide CO alarms in any rented properties where gas appliances are installed. Audible alarms should be kite marked and comply with EN50291:2010.

UKALA recommends that all residential properties have a smoke or fire alarm system in line with British Standard 5839 part 6 2013., which  recommends that as a minimum, fire detectors in rented properties should be mains powered with a battery backup, and interlinked (so if one sounds they all sound).  By law, more complex systems are required for certain types of accommodation such as large HMOs (which are also covered in the standard).  Any system needs to be properly maintained and regularly tested, and a log book record should be kept.

Whilst the title of this blog “hurry up and wait” reflects the uncertainty around forthcoming requirements, having no automatic fire detection & alarm in place is simply unacceptable. If that is the case, ACT NOW.

Visit the online Library for more information

UKALA members can access information about fire safety, including videos explaining risk assessment and system types from the online library, and a fire safety logbook can also be downloaded for free here.

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