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A Landlord’s guide to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Landlords should never underestimate their role in ensuring tenants stay safe. It’s a responsible job – and while incidents are unlikely, they’re always possible.

That’s one of the reasons that landlords are bound by certain regulations – and those about smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are extremely important ones.

Since 2015, the law has required single let landlords have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their property that’s used as living accommodation. Landlords are also required to have a carbon monoxide alarm in any room where ‘solid fuel’ is used – that means stoves and fires that burn wood or coal. 

As a landlord or managing agent, you must ensure the alarms are in working order at the start of every new tenancy. 

Single Lets 
Those living in a single let are responsible for replacing batteries in the smoke alarms during their tenancy. They are also responsible for reporting alarms that appear damaged or are broken. 

HMOs 
Those living in an HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) are also responsible for reporting alarms that appear damaged or broken, but it is not necessary for them to replace batteries as the smoke alarms must be hardwired.

HMO Landlord Fact: If you operate an HMO then different regulations apply. You must have a smoke alarm in every bedroom, in the communal kitchen-living area and on every storey of the property. Smoke alarms in HMOs have to be hardwired not battery powered. The carbon monoxide alarm rule applies to HMOs too. 

Alarms in rental properties should be tested at every inspection.

At Progressive Lets we carry out single let and HMO room inspections every 3 months, however, HMO communal area inspections are carried out fortnightly so smoke alarms are usually tested at this point too.  

Types of smoke alarm suitable for single lets

The regulations don’t make recommendations about the type of smoke alarm required in a single let. Landlords are expected to make an ‘informed choice’.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a huge amount for peace of mind. According to research by Which? you can buy excellent battery powered equipment for under £20. Spending more doesn’t improve smoke detection but could give you additional features such as a 10-year battery or an emergency light.

So the model itself isn’t an important choice, but do bear in mind the type of alarm. There are three kinds:

  1. 1. Ionisation smoke alarms.  This alarm sounds if smoke affects the air between its electrodes. They’re not often affected by dust or steam, but they can be triggered by cooking.
  2. 2. Optical smoke alarms. These use light sensors to identify smoke in the air. While they’re better in or near a kitchen, they can be triggered by dust and steam, so are less useful near a bathroom.
  3. 3. Smart smoke alarms. These operate in one of the above two ways but additionally send an alert to your mobile phone if they detect smoke. Make sure that your model sounds an audible alarm as well, to alert people in the house.

Heat alarms are also available, but these are slower to detect a fire than a smoke alarm, so are less effective.

Carbon monoxide alarms 

Again, there are different types of carbon monoxide alarms, including a smart version that alerts your mobile phone. The others vary by battery – some have replaceable batteries while others are fully sealed and need to be replaced once the power is declining. 

Replaceable versions are usually cheaper, but the batteries will need changing every two or three years – unlike a sealed unit which could last up to 10.

Which? advises that spending less than £10 on a carbon monoxide alarm could put people at risk. Its tests found that cheaper devices sometimes failed to detect dangerous emissions.

Bear in mind that while the regulations state that alarms are only needed in a room where solid fuel is burned, gas appliances can also emit carbon monoxide. Responsible landlords should consider installing alarms in rooms where a gas boiler, cooker or heater is in use.