The new Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations: a tiny step forward in the effort to save lives?

As of 1 October 2015, new regulations came into play, which entirely change the obligations on landlords with respect to detecting carbon monoxide in their rented properties.

With the introduction of the regulations, landlords are now obliged to install a carbon monoxide alarm in every room where there is a solid fuel appliance and also have an obligation to install a smoke alarm on every storey of the property. This applies to all new tenancies entered into the property from 1 October 2015 and to existing tenancies as well. However, the government guidance surrounding this law does suggest as good practice that the landlord installs a carbon monoxide alarm in all rooms where there is a gas appliance also.

Why have these new regulations been introduced?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the ‘silent killer’ because it’s almost impossible to detect its presence without some kind of an alarm. According to the charity CO-Gas Safety, there have been 677 deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning and more than 4,700 ’near-misses’ in the last 19 years. Because we can’t smell, taste or see carbon monoxide poisoning, it can kill without anyone even noticing. According to Stephanie Trotter OBE, the President and Director of CO-Gas Safety, a large number of people have “very limited knowledge about the dangers of CO exposure and how to prevent it. CO cannot be detected using human senses. Sadly most people are also unaware of just how quickly CO can kill – less than 2 per cent of CO in the air can kill in between one and three minutes.”

What do the new regulations mean in practice?

Under the new regulations, in the private sector landlords are under a legal duty

  • to fit at least one smoke alarm on every storey of their rental property which is used as living accommodation
  • to fit a carbon monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation where solid fuel is used
  • to check that the alarm is working on the first date of the tenancy

It is recommended that the landlord includes on the tenancy checklist inventory a tickbox to go through with the tenant to confirm that the alarms are in place, have been tested and are in working order.

Who is responsible for maintenance of the alarms?

Landlords must ensure alarms are there at the start of a tenancy and working. However, property occupants need to take responsibility for routine testing and maintenance. If the alarms develop faults then it’s up to the landlord to replace or repair them once the tenant has notified them.

What happens if landlords don’t comply with the new legislation?

A breach could see a fine of up to £5,000 per property handed to non-compliant landlords. It will be up to the local housing authority to police compliance with the legislation and they can also hand out remedial notices to landlords who haven’t made the change.

The commercial implications for landlords are that they will have to incur the cost of purchasing smoke and CO alarms and maintaining them and fund the cost of supplying replacement batteries. Landlords are advised though that a number of Fire Services are giving out these alarms free of charge and they may be able to obtain one for free if they have not already complied.

While this legislation is widely welcomed, this will only target a small portion of the UK housing sector and only targets one source of CO leaving other sources and other housing situations unregulated and vulnerable. This is a tiny step in a mammoth journey which is needed to have a real impact on reducing the number of unnecessary deaths and exposures. CO kills and further legislation which reaches the other sectors of the population and sources of CO is needed to make impact on the drive to prevent any further unnecessary deaths and exposures.

Gavin Evans is a partner at Simpson Millar