Maintaining smoke detectors in rental units american society of home inspectors, ashi grade 6 electricity unit plan

Q. As the owner of a twelve-unit apartment building, I encourage my tenants to maintain the batteries in their smoke alarms. But when apartments become vacant, I often find the batteries either dead or missing. On some occasions, the alarms themselves are missing. Now that I’m selling the property, the buyer’s home inspector reported various missing and inoperative alarms.

A. Landlords are required to provide smoke alarms near all bedroom entrances and inside every bedroom, with at least one alarm on every floor of every living unit. These are the basic standards, but requirements can vary among different municipalities, so it is important to check with your local building department to be sure you are in full compliance.

Unfortunately, many renters fail to maintain the smoke alarms in their dwellings, in spite of reminders from landlords. Some tenants remove smoke alarms or batteries because of false alarms caused by burning food in the oven or steam from nearby showers. Sometimes they remove alarms because weak batteries cause incessant beeping. These errors in judgment can have life-threatening consequences in the event of a fire, but even homeowners are guilty of the same impulsive decisions.

For landlords, another serious consideration is legal liability. In cases when renters have been the casualties of fire and when smoke alarms that were either missing or inoperative, property owners have been subjected to criminal prosecution. To avoid such liability, you should document your efforts to maintain functional alarms in your rentals. This can be done by having tenants sign a smoke alarm agreement and by including a written reminder with each monthly rent receipt, encouraging regular testing of alarms.

The requirement to attach smoke alarms to the electrical power supply pertains only to residential units constructed in 1979 or thereafter. If the alarms in your apartments are battery powered, the building must be of older vintage. In that case, upgrading is advisable but may not be required.

The 1979 code, requiring direct wiring of alarms, was enacted specifically because people were not maintaining batteries. However, in 1993, the code was changed again. The new standard requires direct attachment to the wiring, with battery backup as well. This change recognizes the fact that many fires are caused by defects in the electrical wiring. When electrical fires occur, failure of the power supply can render smoke alarms inoperative.

In more recent years, it has become mandatory for the smoke alarms in a living unit to be interconnected, so that smoke in one part of a dwelling will cause all of the alarms to be activated. Therefore, if you were sleeping in an upstairs bedroom with the door closed, smoke in the downstairs area would activate the alarm in your bedroom.

In dwellings with any kind of combustion fixtures, such as stoves, water heaters, furnaces or fireplaces, carbon monoxide alarms are also required. These should be installed near all bedroom entrances, with at least one alarm on each floor. Again, you should consult your local municipality to ensure you are in full compliance with local laws.