Installing smoke alarms is a no-brainer. They cost only a few quid and they can save tenants’ lives. Someone somewhere has estimated that you are four times more likely to die in a house fire if there is no smoke alarm.
Changes to the law will mean rental properties must have working smoke alarms on every floor and landlords must test them before the start of each tenancy.
Landlords will also have to install carbon monoxide alarms in high-risk rooms, such as those with a solid fuel heating system, including an open fire or a log burner.
Carbon monoxide, also given off by faulty boilers and gas appliances, is a silent killer. You can’t see it, you can’t smell it and, unless you have got a ruddy great alarm to give you a shrill warning when it’s in the air, you can’t hear it, so this is also a welcome addition to the law. Any landlords who ignore the new rules could be fined up to £5,000.
The problem is, it doesn’t matter how many of these life-saving alarms you install, at some point the batteries will die and, even though the new legislation will make it clear that it is the tenant’s responsibility to replace them, if they are anything like mine, they won’t.
Changing a battery in a smoke alarm is way beyond the capabilities of every single one of my tenants.
Years ago, a tenant specifically asked me to provide a carbon monoxide alarm, yet when she moved out I found the batteries were flat. Those in the smoke alarm had also died.
One tenant emailed me a couple of weeks ago to say that the smoke alarm in her flat was “making an annoying beeping noise”. I told her to replace the battery. When I went round the following week, I found it chucked on the kitchen worktop.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been round to inspect my flats and found the smoke alarms gaping open, with no batteries in them.
For this reason, I think it’s worth shelling out a bit more and buying the ones with sealed batteries that last 10 years. Even better are the mains-powered alarms, but you have to pay for these to be installed by a qualified electrician and, to be really safe, you still need to fit them with a battery in case of a power failure.
I once had tenants who ripped a smoke alarm off the hallway ceiling because it went off every time they burned toast. To avoid this, you can get optical alarms, which are less sensitive. Alternatively, you can install a heat alarm instead of a smoke alarm in the kitchen.
If you are really tight or feeling broke, contact your local fire station. Apparently they have thousands of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to give away for rental properties.
The new legislation will only apply to lettings that start after October this year, but we should all install alarms in every property now.
Landlords should then make a diary note to replace batteries in 12 months’ time.
We must make sure our tenants are safe, even if they can’t be bothered.
Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock