Are you compliant with smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations?

For landlords the laws surrounding smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are clear. It is important to take these regulations seriously as they could mean the difference between life and death for your tenants. The Government report that, in the event of a fire in your home, you are at least four times more likely to die if there is no working smoke alarm present; a risk that is just not worth taking.

On 1 October 2015 new smoke and carbon monoxide regulations, known as the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, were introduced to help ensure that private sector tenants are safe in their homes.

The regulations state that private rented sector landlords must;

  • Ensure that at least one smoke alarm is installed on every storey of their rental property and that there is a carbon monoxide alarm in any room that contains a solid fuel burning appliance (this could be a coal fire or wood burning stove) where their property is used as living accommodation
  • Ensure at the start of each new tenancy that all alarms are in good working order

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In addition to this regulation there is some further advice for private rented sector landlords:

  • While carbon monoxide alarms are only required in rooms that contain a solid fuel burning appliance, gas appliances can also emit carbon monoxide. The Government ‘expect and encourage reputable landlords’ to ensure that carbon monoxide alarms are also installed in rooms that have gas appliances for added security. It is recommended that carbon monoxide alarms are positioned at head height approximately one to three metres from a potential carbon monoxide source. The alarm could be placed on a shelf or the wall
  • It is not stipulated by the regulations where smoke alarms should be placed, just that at least one smoke alarm is installed on every storey of the property. Despite this, best practice suggests that smoke alarms should be fitted to the ceiling in a circulation space. This refers to a hall or landing
  • The Government does not, at this time, stipulate the type of alarms that should be installed (hard wired or battery operated). It is therefore for landlords to make informed decisions about the best alarm for their tenants and property
  • Heat detectors are not a replacement for smoke alarms
  • You should always follow individual manufacturer’s instructions when installing alarms in your property to ensure that they are safe, work correctly and are compliant
  • While landlords must test that each alarm in the property works correctly at the start of every tenancy, it is the tenant’s responsibility to ensure the alarms continue to work throughout their tenancy by carrying out regular tests. The Government recommends that these tests are carried out monthly and any issues reported to the landlord immediately.

It is imperative that landlords are aware of their obligations and act accordingly to ensure the security and safety of their tenants. Visit the Government website for a full breakdown of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.

In February 2019 a renting family of four was saved by a working smoke alarm which alerted them to a fire that led to extensive damage to their 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.

Find out more about our top fire safety tips and advice for landlords.

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Carbon monoxide poisoning – the signs and symptoms

Due to the severity of carbon monoxide poisoning it is a good idea to understand the signs and symptoms associated with this highly poisonous gas. Carbon monoxide is the product of the incomplete burning of fuels such as oil, gas, wood and coal. Often these fuels are used in common household appliances like boilers, gas fires, central heating, natural open fires and cookers. Most often leaks are caused as a result of these appliances being incorrectly fitted, ventilated and or maintained.

The NHS report that each year there are approximately 60 deaths in England and Wales as a result of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Spotting a carbon monoxide leak, or build up, can often be a problem due to the fact that you are unable to see, taste or smell it. Recognising the signs and symptoms can however help to save lives.

Anyone who is exposed to carbon monoxide, even in small quantities, will experience symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning. Mild symptoms can often mimic those of the flu, food poisoning or an infection, including symptoms of fatigue, headaches, nausea and vomiting. More moderate symptoms can include confusion, drowsiness and an increased heart rate. Long term or severe exposure can result in unconsciousness, collapse and even death.

An additional red flag that could point to a carbon monoxide leak in a property is that symptoms only occur when someone is in the property and soon disappear when they leave, similarly pets living in the property may also be unwell. When carrying out mid-term inspections make sure to check that there are no red flags that could point to a gas leak in the property and always advise tenants to make you aware should they experience any symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning as soon as possible.

The Gas Safe Register suggests that the following could also signal a carbon monoxide leak in a property:

  • Flames on a gas hob that are a lazy yellow or orange colour rather than being a crisp blue;
  • You notice dark staining on or around appliances;
  • Pilot lights are frequently blown out;
  • You notice an increased amount of condensation on the inside of windows

Making sure appliances in the property are regularly safety checked by a qualified engineer is important to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your tenants. In addition, fitting a carbon monoxide alarm in the property is a good line of defence against a carbon monoxide leak and can provide further peace of mind for both you and your tenants.

You can find out more information on carbon monoxide in your property from the Gas Safe Register, including what to do if you, or your tenant, suspects a gas leak in your property.

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What happens if you fail to comply?

Failure to comply with the regulations carries heavy penalties. Local authorities can impose fines of up to £5,000 where landlords fail to comply with a remedial notice.

After the introduction of legislation in 2015 no grace period was given to landlords and so ALL landlords should now be compliant with legislation, taking into account the time that has elapsed since its introduction.

However, whilst the penalties imposed on landlords who fail to comply are severe, the biggest deterrent is clearly the potential loss of life. Landlords should not underestimate the danger that smoke, fire and carbon monoxide pose to tenants. It is important not to be complacent when it comes to checking that alarms are in good working order, or responding to tenant concerns about safety in the property.  It is simply better to be safe than sorry.

Other regulations

Landlords must however be aware that the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 cannot be followed in isolation and do not cover all the fire safety requirements that a landlord’s property may be subject to.

Additional legislation includes, but is not limited to, Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 that also provide landlords with fire safety requirements designed to protect their tenants and property.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that landlords are required to carry out periodical fire risk assessments in the common areas of HMOs, flats, maisonettes and sheltered accommodation.

Tenants are also required to have access to escape routes at all times.

Landlords should ensure that they are up to date with the most recent requirements as legislation is subject to change. You can find out the most up to date regulations through the GOV.UK website.

As a landlord protecting your property from damage is extremely important.

The best way to protect your property against the risks involved in letting out a property is by taking out a landlord insurance that covers the specific requirements of your buy to let property. Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance prides itself on providing landlords with comprehensive cover should the worst happen.

You can read more about your current landlord obligations at Gov.uk.

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