Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Understanding the regulations

On 1 October 2015, new regulations came into force in England regarding the fitting of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. On 1 October 2022, the regulations are being updated.

Most people will be familiar with the government’s Fire Kills campaign and the importance of having a working smoke alarm in every home. Statistics show you are at least four times more likely to die in a fire in the home if there is no working smoke alarm.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas, produced when fuel burns without enough air, and exposure to high levels of CO can be fatal. More information can be found on the HSE website.

Get things wrong and the landlord could face a financial penalty, as well as endangering their tenants’ safety. To help you understand the rules, we have published this free guide.

1. What alarms do landlords need to install?

Every private rented property needs to be fitted with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms (if applicable). On 1 October 2022, the regulations are being extended to cover social housing.

Smoke Alarms

The requirement is to install at least one smoke alarm on every storey of the rental property on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation. The definition of room includes a bathroom or toilet. 

The regulations do not say whether smoke alarms must be hard wired or battery powered, although hard wired with battery back-up is best practice and should be considered when a property is rewired.

Smoke alarms should normally be fitted to the ceiling in the entrance hallway and on any landing. Fitting smoke alarms in the central circulation area helps to ensure they activate quickly if a fire starts in any of the adjoining rooms.

Never install smoke alarms in a kitchen as it will lead to frequent false alarms when cooking. The only type of alarm that should be installed in a kitchen is a heat alarm. Heat alarms are not covered by these regulations but may be required in multi-occupied properties under other legislation.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Since 2015, it has been a requirement to install a CO alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning combustion appliance such as a coal fire or wood burning stove.

On 1 October 2022, the requirement for CO alarms is being extended to all rooms containing a fixed combustion appliance of any fuel type. This will include all gas appliances except for gas cookers.

Whilst not part of the legislation, the guidance states that ‘In the Department’s view, a non-functioning purely decorative fireplace would not constitute a fixed combustion appliance‘. You might want to add a clause to the tenancy agreement to make clear that such a fireplace must not be used. 

When positioning CO alarms, government guidance is to follow manufacturer’s instructions. They are usually fitted at head height either on a wall or shelf, approximately 1 to 3 meters away from the fixed combustion appliance.

2. How often should alarms be tested?

There is a requirement for the landlord (or someone acting on their behalf) to ensure that the smoke and CO alarms (if any) are in good working order on the first day of the tenancy.

When testing alarms, it is important to check the expiry date printed on the detector and press the test button to ensure the audible alarm sounds. CO alarms have a life expectancy of around seven years whereas smoke alarms can last for up to ten years.

Landlords need to think carefully about how they record this information for audit purposes. You might ask the tenant to sign an inventory or other document to confirm that the alarms were present and working correctly when the tenancy started.

Once a tenancy has started, in a single family property it is usually the tenant’s responsibility to test smoke and CO alarms. Weekly or monthly tests are recommended and it is good practice to explain this at tenancy sign up.

The testing arrangements are different in properties licensed under a mandatory HMO, additional or selective licensing scheme. All property licences should have a condition that makes the licence holder responsible for keeping smoke and CO alarms in proper working order.

For this reason, in licensed properties it is essential to test smoke and CO alarms during interim inspections and keep records to show it was done. It is good practice to follow a similar approach with properties not subject to licensing.

3. What happens if a smoke or CO alarm is faulty?

If a tenant reports a smoke or CO alarm is faulty, or a fault is discovered during a property inspection, the landlord must repair or replace the defective alarm as soon as reasonably practicable. This new requirement comes into force on 1 October 2022.

4. How are the rules enforced?

Local housing authorities in England are responsible for enforcing these regulations.

If a landlord fails to comply with the requirements, the local authority can serve a remedial notice requiring the landlord to fit and/or test the alarms within 28 days.

If a landlord fails to comply with a remedial notice, the local authority can issue the landlord with a civil penalty notice of up to £5,000. The local authority must also carry out the work specified in the remedial notice to make sure that the tenants are safe. 

If a landlord disputes the civil penalty notice they can write to the council and request a review within 28 days of the notice being served. If a landlord remains unhappy with the outcome, they can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

4. How can I find out more?

The government have produced a helpful guide to the regulations (DLUHC: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022: guidance for landlords and tenants: July 2022) that you can view here.

If you want to refer back to the legislation, the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 can be viewed here.

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022 can be viewed here.

It is important to remember that compliance with these regulations does not necessarily mean that the property has been provided with an acceptable level of fire precautions.

If the property is a house in multiple occupation, you may need to provide a higher standard of fire precautions appropriate to the size, layout and occupancy of the property, under the Housing Act 2004. You may also need to carry out a fire risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. To find out more, you can read the LACORS national fire safety guidance, available here.