Residential Landlords Association (RLA)
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Battery-powered smoke alarms failed in more than a third of property fires

The festive season is here, and many people will be putting up Christmas decorations.

Decorations and candles, – common in any home at this time of year-can pose an additional fire risk.

With this in mind, this week, the Local Government Association (LGA) issued a warning relating to checking batteries in smoke detectors are working properly.

Figures from the LGA reveal that a staggering 40% of battery-powered smoke alarms failed to activate in residential fires in England in the past year-a figure the association says has stayed virtually the same in the past decade.

The data showed that firefighters attended more than 7,500 fires in homes with battery-powered alarms last year and found that 38 per cent failed to alert residents of the danger. Incorrect positioning caused 45% of the failures, while missing or faulty batteries caused 20%.

The LGA is urging people to test their smoke alarms regularly, and especially during the run-up to Christmas when festive decorations, candles and lighting pose a potentially greater fire risk.

What the law says

It is a legal requirement for landlords to install smoke alarms on every floor of their property. These must be tested at the start of every tenancy. Mains powered alarms are preferred as the failure rate is much lower than a battery powered alarm. Carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in rooms with a solid fuel appliance.

What is a landlord responsible for an what is a tenant responsible for?

Landlords are required to check the smoke detector works at the start of the tenancy ideally in the presence of the tenant who can see/hear it work.

The tenant is responsible for maintaining it, for example replacing the batteries or doing simple fixes. If the smoke detector is mains wired, or the ceilings in the property are very high with no step ladders provided then the tenant should inform the landlord of any issues, for the landlord to then take a look.

When landlords carry out inspections of the property, checking the fire alarms work properly should be part of this inspection. Findings should be noted down, and if the smoke detector is not working, then it is recommended landlords write down what action has or will be taken to fix it. Ideally, the issue should be resolved at that point, instead of leaving tenants with a non-functioning smoke alarm which could prove to be dangerous/

What aspects of fire safety is a tenants’ responsibility?

It could therefore be useful for landlords to remind tenants of their responsibilities when it comes to fire safety. You could advise them to:

  • Check that all smoke alarms are in working order. If battery operated replace batteries and check they are in working order.
  • Avoid putting anything over the alarm such as a plastic bag to stop the alarm going off.
  • Never remove fire extinguishers or blankets if they are provided in the property.
  • Advise tenants about the dangers of leaving pans unattended, as well as other lifestyle considerations such as leaving items on or placing items near heaters.
  • Be aware of chargers and other electrical appliances being plugged in too long and over heating.
  • Do not overload sockets
  • Tell tenants to flag up any unusual noises or smells and get them checked out.
  • If your tenants live in blocks of flats remind them to familiarise themselves and check the evacuation procedure in case this has changed or has been updated.

The law

All landlords in England need to be compliant with the smoke and CO regulations. This means it is a requirement to have a battery operated smoke detector on every floor.

The law around fire safety is complex, and it also different depending on the type of dwelling. For example, in a house of multiple occupation there are more things that landlords must comply with. In addition to this, some licensing conditions may include parts about fire safety.

Fire Safety advice for landlords

Every week, the RLA supports the #TestitTuesday social media campaign, run by charity Fire Kills, which reminds people to check some detectors are working properly.

The RLA also has several resources for landlords and letting agents available on fire safety. This includes a fire safety classroom course, with dates coming up in Sale and Manchester next year, and an eLearning foundation fire safety course.

Read more Christmas fire safety advice here on the fire services’ website.

Finally, detailed LACORS guidance on fire safety can be found on the RLA’s docs and guides centre.

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