Tighter carbon monoxide alarm rules – what do agents need to know?

Tighter carbon monoxide alarm rules – what do agents need to know?

19 January 2021

The rules around carbon monoxide alarms in rental properties could be tightened in the future, how can you help landlords to remain compliant?

As a letting agent, an absolutely key part of your job is keeping tenants safe in their rental properties. One of the measures to make this so is the use of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, to ensure tenant health is prioritised at all times.

There may be further changes coming to tighten up the rules on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms which you and your landlords will need to be aware of.

Here, we take a closer look at what’s being proposed and also outline the current expectations and rules when it comes to carbon monoxide alarms.

What could be changing?

A consultation is currently underway (running from November 17 2020 to January 11 2021) regarding domestic smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in rented properties and the proposals to extend existing regulations.

While the open consultation is mostly concerned with increasing standards for social landlords, there are proposals that would affect private landlords as well.

The consultation, which relates to England only, is seeking views on the following:

  1. Amending the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 to require social landlords to ensure at least one smoke alarm is installed on each storey of the premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation.
  2. Amending the statutory guidance (Approved Document J) supporting Part J of the Building Regulations to require that carbon monoxide alarms are fitted alongside the installation of fixed combustion appliances of any fuel type (excluding gas cookers).
  3. Amending the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 to require private and social landlords to install a carbon monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation where a fixed combustion appliance is used (excluding gas cookers).

You can respond to the consultation by completing this online survey – or, alternatively, you can email your responses to smokeandcarbonmonoxide@communities.gov.uk.

Why are the proposals important?

In an introduction to the consultation, the Government says it is committed to ensuring residents are protected from the risks of fire and carbon monoxide in their homes.

Fire and rescue services attended nearly 30,000 home fires in England in 2019/20, with nearly 200 fire-related fatalities, while around 20 people die each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning (excluding those relating to accidental exposure to smoke, fire and flames). Additionally, there are more than 4,000 presentations to hospitals estimated to be related to carbon monoxide annually.

The Government says alarms provide reassurance and can also protect residents from the ‘devastating harm caused to homes and lives by fire incidents and accidental carbon monoxide poisoning’.

Carbon monoxide alarms are there to detect and warn of the presence of dangerous levels of the gas, while smoke alarms have been shown to save lives, with government statistics highlighting that you are around eight times more likely to die in a fire if you do not have any working smoke alarms in your home.

Why does this affect private landlords?

The consultation could potentially bring in new and stricter legal requirements for private landlords with regards to carbon monoxide alarm installation, with the suggestion that landlords – or agents managing the home on their behalf – not only fit an alarm into any room that has a fixed combustion appliance, such as a gas boiler or wood burner, but also ensure it is in proper working order on the first day of every new tenancy.

Similarly, they would be required to repair or replace alarms reported as having problems during the tenancy.

While it’s been mandatory for just over five years for landlords in England to have a carbon monoxide alarm in any room that contains a solid fuel burning appliance, such as a coal fire or wood burning stove, as part of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, until now the government has merely encouraged landlords to fit them in all rooms with gas appliances too.

As stated above, much of the consultation document is aimed at the social renting sector – considered to be behind the private rented sector when it comes to fire and carbon monoxide safety – but it does offer some very useful background information.

For instance, a review of the existing regulations found that of those who had a smoke alarm installed at the time of a fire, nearly half (49%) of households reported that the alarm did not go off at the time of the incident. Of these, just under a quarter said that the fire was too far away from the smoke alarm.

As part of the new proposals, the Government suggests: “We are proposing that both private and social sector landlords be obliged to repair or replace a faulty alarm during the tenancy, where a fault is reported to them. Whilst we are not proposing proactive checking of alarms during the tenancy by the landlord, we do think it is right that landlords should replace faulty alarms, particularly in the social rented sector where tenancies run for an average of 12 years whilst a smoke alarm has an average lifespan of 10 years.”
Later in the document, the Government says it plans to ‘commence requirements as soon as practicable’ following the laying of regulations, as ‘delaying implementation could put lives at risk’.

“However, a phased implementation could help landlords manage the additional costs by, for example, installing an alarm when they next visit the property, during a tenancy or gas safety check, rather than having to make an extra visit. As part of this consultation, we are seeking evidence of the necessity of a phased implementation approach,” it added.

What are the existing rules for private landlords?

The above would be a beefing up of the existing rules that apply to private landlords. Since October 1 2015, landlords – or letting agents on their behalf – have needed to adhere to the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.

This means at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance (for example a coal fire or wood burning stove).

Under the rules, landlords or letting agents must make sure the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy. Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the requirements and can impose a fine of up to £5,000 to those who fail to comply with a remedial notice.

Under the current rules, following the landlord or agent’s test on the first day of the tenancy, it is tenants who are encouraged to take responsibility for their own safety and test all alarms regularly to make sure they are in working order. Testing monthly, the regulations state, is generally considered an appropriate frequency for smoke alarms.

If tenants find that their alarm(s) are not in working order during the tenancy, they are advised to arrange the replacement of the batteries or the alarm itself with the relevant landlord or agent.

At present, if a landlord wants to gain permission to install the alarm at the start of a tenancy or take remedial action if access to the premises is denied by the tenant, they must write to the tenant to explain that it is a legal requirement to install the alarms and that it is for the tenant’s own safety.

If the local authority has reasonable grounds to believe the landlord has not complied with the regulations, then a remedial notice will be issued, outlining the suspected breach and required action.

If the landlord can then prove compliance, either by proving they were already compliant or by becoming compliant within 28 days of the notice being issued, then they will be exempt from the civil penalty. If this isn’t the case, a fine of up to £5,000 could be levied.

As mentioned above, the current rules only encourage the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in rooms with gas appliances. But, as gas appliances can emit carbon monoxide, the Government states that it would expect and encourage reputable landlords to ensure that working carbon monoxide alarms are installed in rooms where such appliances are present.

With the consultation running until January 11, and likely to be followed by further consultations, these changes are unlikely to arrive in a hurry. But, as a letting agent, it’s a good idea to ensure your landlords are ahead of the game with fire safety and carbon monoxide alarms to ensure you’re in the best possible position if the regulations are beefed up.

You may want to consider reminding or encouraging tenants to check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are working properly on a regular basis, and also set about installing carbon monoxide alarms in rooms with gas appliances if this isn’t already the case.

To put your landlords’ minds at ease, you need to make sure you are on top of these crucial regulations at all times – and any possible future changes.

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