Recent law changes across the UK regarding the provision of smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in rental properties were introduced to increase general safety levels for those living in rented accommodation.
Whilst the new regulations have been generally welcomed as a step in the right direction, the lack of a universal framework of guidance covering the whole of the UK has left some landlords and tenants unsure as to their responsibilities and rights.
This article is intended to explore the differences between the new laws covering Scotland and England, and compare them to the rules that continue to apply to Wales and Northern Ireland, giving a UK-wide perspective on the issue.
The introduction of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, as well as the addition of duties relating to CO detection within the Repairing Standard covering Scotland have brought the issue of fire and CO safety to the fore for many landlords across the UK.
Both pieces of legislation were aimed at redressing the balance between the level of fire and CO safety generally found in rental properties compared to other housing types.
A startling statistic that highlighted the gulf in protection levels between the various housing types prior to the changed legislation was, that those living in rented accommodation were more than three times as likely to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning than those in owner-occupied or social housing.
The existence of legislation aimed directly at landlords does, of course, not eliminate the requirement to conform to the relevant building regulations where buildings are modified.
Indeed, Part J of the Building Regulations for England and Wales specifies the following:
In a similar vein, Northern Ireland's Building Regulations require that:
Whilst neither excerpt specifies where the burden of responsibility lies for the installation of a detector, reputable installers of fuel burning appliances will either include a carbon monoxide detector as standard, or offer them as additional items to purchase.
Scotland's building regulations do not address the issue of carbon monoxide detection in a general sense, but do include specific guidance for rental properties under the 'Repairing Standard' element of the legislation as previously cited.
The new landlord legislation, and the building regulations mentioned above are primarily aimed at privately rented single household properties. That may leave some wondering if the legislation has any bearing on HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation).
For the purpose of fire safety legislation, HMOs are regulated differently, drawing on resources such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) for guidance.
The RRFSO takes precedence in communal areas, and a valid fire risk assessment and appropriate fire detection system must be in place. However, the newly introduced rules relating to CO detectors still apply for HMOs in both England and Scotland, and as such should be considered when conducting a risk assessment.
Whilst there are several differences between the landlord-specific legislation covering England and Scotland, in terms of general contents and intended outcome they are similar.
Two notable differences between the English and Scottish legislation are the battery types specified for CO alarms, and the types of fuel burning appliances which trigger the need to install a CO detector.
The differences can in part be attributed to the fact that The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 were introduced to tackle both Smoke and CO detection in rental properties. By contrast, the requirement for landlords to install CO detectors in rental properties in Scotland was brought in as an extension to the Repairing Standard which already governed the responsibilities of Landlords in terms of the inherent safety of any properties being rented out.
The legislation in relation to carbon monoxide detection covering England specifies that CO detectors must be provided in properties that feature a solid fuel burning appliance. Therefore, due to this wording, as per the regulations there is no duty to provide a CO alarm in properties that only feature gas appliances, for example.
Safelincs would nevertheless strongly suggest that all fuel types are treated equally, as burning any carbon containing fuel (wood, coal, gas, oil, etc.) can potentially be a source of carbon monoxide.
In Scotland, the legislation not only covers all fuel types, but also goes a step further and specifies that carbon monoxide detectors supplied by landlords must feature a sealed, long-life battery. This is to ensure that any detectors supplied under the legislation cannot be easily disabled and offer long term protection.
In contrast to the landlord-specific rules brought in to cover England and Scotland, the guidance in place for Wales and Northern Ireland is more general. Indeed, as it stands there is currently no legislation specifically governing the responsibilities of landlords in relation to CO or smoke detectors in either country.
As a result, the base requirement for smoke detection within rental properties defaults to the guidance in general building regulations for each country. Therefore, properties built after 1992 must feature a mains powered smoke alarm system, and also a CO detector if fuel burning appliances are installed in order to meet building regulations.
This section explains clearly the basic requirements in each individual country within the UK
As well as breaking down the requirements per country, this section will also offer suggestions for a 'Best Practice' solution for landlords to consider in relation to both smoke and carbon monoxide detection.
A minimum of one smoke detector (mains or battery powered) per floor.
A CO detector present in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance.
A minimum of one smoke alarm in the main living area, one smoke alarm in each circulation space (i.e. hallways & landings) and one heat alarm in every kitchen. All alarms should be interlinked and contain longlife batteries or be mains-powered.
A long-life CO detector present in every space containing a fixed combustion appliance.
As there are no landlord specific regulations, smoke detector requirements default to building regulations. This means that in houses built after 1992, there should be a mains-powered system of smoke alarms in place. There is, however, currently no direct requirement for landlords to install smoke detectors for the protection of their tenants.
There is no legislation in place requiring the installation of CO detectors.
Once again, there are no landlord specific regulations covering Northern Ireland, therefore smoke detector requirements default to building regulations. As a result, houses built after 1992 should feature a mains-powered system of smoke alarms, but much like in Wales there is currently no direct requirement for landlords to install smoke detectors for the protection of their tenants.
In Northern Ireland there is no legislation in place requiring the installation of CO detectors in rental properties. However, building regulations do insist that all new build properties are fitted with a CO detector during construction. Therefore, those renting houses that were built after October 2012 can expect to find a CO detector in place.
Wherever possible, a mains-powered or longlife sealed battery smoke alarm system with interlink should be installed covering the escape route, the kitchen and any frequently inhabited rooms such as living rooms & bedrooms.
The system should be clearly audible throughout the entire property in the event of a fire, and ideally feature long-life backup batteries in each alarm, if mains-powered.
Carbon monoxide detectors should be provided in any room containing a combustion appliance, and also sited close enough to bedrooms to ensure occupants will be woken in the event of an emergency.
Where possible it is best practice to have an interconnected system of longlife sealed battery CO detectors, or integrate them into the smoke detection system to extend the audibility of the alarms.
We hope that this article has helped explain the requirements that cover the UK in relation to smoke and CO detection. Whilst there is not yet a UK wide consensus on exactly how best to ensure landlords tackle their fire and CO safety responsibilities, there is most definitely a growing appreciation of the importance of protecting against these dangers.
If you have any further questions regarding the issues raised above, or any other aspect of fire safety, please feel free to browse our dedicated Landlords and Fire Safety advice section, or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reviewed: 20/03/2019 (doc:121 V1.1). Our articles are reviewed regularly. However, any changes made to standards or legislation following the review date will not have been considered. Please note that we provide abridged, easy-to-understand guidance. To make detailed decisions about your fire safety provisions, you might require further advice or need to consult the full standards and legislation.