Landlords required by law to fit smoke plus CO detectors

Smoke Alarm Detector

FROM October 1st, 2015 landlords must fit working smoke detectors on every habitable storey in all rented houses – not just HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation).  Also carbon monoxide (CO) Detectors in areas with solid fuel burners (coal and log fires). Smoke plus CO detectors matter

This legislation on smoke plus CO detectors followed an announcement by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis on 11th March 2015 (Gov.uk, 2015).

Derbyshire landlord and prominent animal rights campaigner, Dr Victoria Martindale received a suspended prison sentence for failing to maintain a faulty gas boiler resulting in the avoidable death of her tenant, Stephen Newton.

Stephen was found dead by his friends on his 51st birthday at his rented property at The Brickyard, Stanley Common, near Ilkeston, on 29 December 2009. He died from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Smoke plus CO detectors could have prevented his death. Paradoxically, the new legislation would not have protected Stephen, since it does not apply to gas boilers.

Susan Davies, Stephen’s partner, was almost overcome by the CO fumes,  but was fortunate enough to be found in time to make a full recovery. A neighbour was also hospitalised.  Ironically had the neighbour had a solid fuel burner and been a tenant the law on  smoke plus CO detectors would have protected her from the gas boiler CO fumes.

The investigation found that the boiler,  believed to have been installed in 1982, was producing high levels of CO affecting both Dr Martindale’s property and adjacent housing.

The court heard that the boiler had been reconnected by the tenant, despite being condemed as dangerous and disconnected; the flue was too short and could be affected by the wind; the ventilator was fitted with fly screens blocked with dust and the boiler had not been serviced for some time.

Dr Victoria Martindale was sentenced at Derby Crown Court and pleaded guilty to seven breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, and was given a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. She was also given 200 hours community service, fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,500 (HSE, 2013).

Speaking after the hearing HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Inspector Noelle Walker commented:

“Dr Martindale completely failed in her responsibilities as a landlord. She should have taken all reasonable steps to ensure the property’s gas fittings and flues were checked for safety every year, maintained in a safe condition and that the gas boiler was properly serviced.”

Smoke Alarm Detector

Kenneth Lu (CC BY 2.0)

Following this case in 2013, it was apparent that the cost of detectors was ludicrously irrelevant when considering the well-being and safety of our tenants.  Fitting not only Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors, but Gas Detectors too, it became Bob Leydon’s mission to ensure maximum tenant safety, a step subsequently vindicated by this new law.

Whilst some landlords may view this measure as an additional financial burden, a tenant’s safety is paramount – to say nothing of a landlord’s liberty!

DIY superstores are awash with battery operated (CO) detectors – costing a miserly £13.00 each in B&Q Canterbury. The legislation does not stipulate a requirement for battery or mains wired detectors.

What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas without, smell or taste. Breathing enough of it, can cause permanent heart, lung, or brain damage and even kill!  Hence its nickname “the silent killer”. Carbon monoxide can be given off by any appliance burning fossil fuel such as gas, coal or oil. It can enter a room if an appliance is faulty, or if the room is not properly ventilated, or the chimney or flue is blocked.

To ensure that appliances are safe, have them properly installed and regularly maintained and serviced at the start of each tenancy by a registered Gas Safety Engineer (Kent Fire and Rescue, 2015).

Landlords, here’s what you need to do:

  • Fit at least one smoke detector on each floor of your property.
  • Fit a carbon monoxide (CO) detector in any rooms containing a solid fuel appliance.
  • Ensure that all detectors are working when a new tenancy starts.
  • Keep meticulous records of any inspection and the results of any test.
Smoke Alarm Detector Hard-wired

Katy Warner (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Landlords, why not go a step further? Fit a gas detector at the same time. Or go yet further and have both detectors mains wired –  thereby minimising any risk of non-compliance due to defective ‘battery-only’ detectors.

Authorities aware of non-compliant rented homes have new powers to issue landlords with a ‘remedial notice’, granting 28 days to comply.  Thereafter landlords can  expect to be served with a penalty charge  of up to £5,000 (Derbyshire Fire and Rescue, 2015) – and face prosecution!

Landlords, how far are you prepared to go to ensure your tenants’ safety?

Further Reading:

  1. Canterbury City Council (HMO Landlord Handbook)
  2. Kent Fire and Rescue (Carbon Monoxide)
  3. Tenants safe under new government measures
  4. Derbyshire landlord prosecuted for carbon monoxide death

Want more information?

  1. Canterbury – privatesector.housing@canterbury.gov.uk
  2. Kent Fire and Rescue Service – BET@kent.fire-uk.org

2 thoughts on “Landlords required by law to fit smoke plus CO detectors

  1. Can you explain why CO detectors appear to be needed in any room with solid fuel appliance but not ones with a gas appliance?
    Also, where Scotland leads, England usually follows. Scotland now require mains linked fire alarms in all rented property so fitting battery ones may be a short term fix but may could replacing soon so why not fit mains ones now anyway.

    1. Hi Harry. Good question and I could not agree with you more!

      Prior to introduction, the Government wrote,
      The proposed changes to the law would require landlords to install smoke alarms on every floor of their property, and test them at the start of every tenancy.

      Landlords would also need to install carbon monoxide alarms in high risk rooms – such as those where a solid fuel heating system is installed.

      Those who fail to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms (where required by law) would face sanctions and could face up to a £5,000 civil penalty.

      Personally I think landlords need to go the extra mile to comply with the spirit of the law. Even where lighting an open fire would be prohibited by tenancy rules, tenants breaching such rules by lighting, say a lounge or bedroom coal or log fire (perhaps resulting in injury or death) would not be solely responsible for their fate. Remember, in the case of Dr Victoria Martindale, her tenant’s breach (resulting in her tenant’s death) was ultimately held to be the responsibility of the landlord who, had she taken reasonable proactive steps, could have prevented her tenant’s death. Upon reading this case a couple of years ago, I immediately scheduled installation of mains-wired carbon monoxide and gas detectors in all my personal properties, and encouraged all our client landlords and landlord friends to follow suit. Most agreed without question.

      From today, 1st October 2015, installing smoke and CO detectors (where required) is now a legal requirement. One day Gas detectors will follow. Why wait? Install gas and CO detectors at the same time and only pay one call out charge! Think of it as saving two lives for the cost of only one installation. In short, if your rented property – whether a house, flat or bungalow – has a log/ coal /oil fire, (I would include gas appliances too) then you need a CO detector in the area of the fuel burner (as well as smoke detectors on all habitable floors). All of these fuels have one very deadly thing in common – poisonous carbon monoxide emmissions!

      P.s. I almost forgot – if you think my advice is “overkill” (unpleasant pun with punitive consequences) this pun is literally “over the top”. Despite no legal requirement, this year we fitted smoke detectors in roof /lofts spaces; all mains wired and interlinked to the normal habitable floor smoke alarms. A fire in the loft spreads terrifyingly quickly to the entire floor below – without warning. Only a thin layer of 9.5mm plasterboard (the thickness of a slice of bread) separates a loft fire from a tenant’s life. Ignited whilst asleep, only a loft detector would be likely to provide enough warning time to awaken a sleeping tenant – in time to enable an escape.

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About the author

Bob

Formerly a student living in a rented room my vision focused on excellence. Letting phenomenal student houses soon became more than a day job - more a way of life.

Continuing to look after our tenants I subsequently also founded what is widely recognised as a phenomenal student lettings agency.