Most landlords already know the current laws regarding smoke alarms in residential properties. However, beginning January 1, 2014, new requirements take effect regarding the equipment, installation and maintenance of such devices. This article is short, general in nature, and designed to give landlords an easy to understand overview of the new laws, their obligations under them, and the consequences of failing to comply.

New Laws

As of January 1, 2014, all smoke alarms installed in residential rental units must be on the State Fire Marshal’s list of approved devices. In order to be on the list of approved devices, the device must:

  1. Display the date of manufacture on the device
  2. Provide a place on the device where the date of installation can be written
  3. Incorporate a hush feature
  4. Incorporate an end-of-life feature that provides notice that the device needs to be replaced; and
  5. Contain a non-replaceable, non-removable battery that is capable of powering the smoke alarm for a minimum of 10 years (this last requirement applies only if the device is battery operated).

Owners’ Obligations

Under current law, only owners of multi-family rental units are responsible for testing and maintaining the devices, while owners of single family units are under no such obligation. However, as of January 1, 2014, owners of both, multi-family and single family rental units who rent or lease their property will be responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms within all of the units in, or on, their properties. In the case of apartment buildings with two or more units, landlords will be responsible for testing and maintaining the devices in every unit, including vacant units.

In order to facilitate the owner’s obligation to test and maintain the devices, owners or their agents are permitted to enter the unit for the purposes of installing, repairing, testing, and/or maintaining the devices. However, owners are required to provide tenants with reasonable notice, in writing, of their intent to enter the unit prior to going in. Reasonable notice is generally considered to be 24 hours in advance of entering, and entrance may be made only during normal business hours, (generally, Monday

through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.). Of course, where a tenant grants permission or requests the landlord to enter on days other than those listed above, it is perfectly acceptable to do so.

Additionally, owners are required to ensure that smoke alarms are operable at the time a new tenancy is created. However, during the course of the tenancy, the tenant has the obligation to notify the owner once the tenant becomes aware of a problem with the smoke alarm and, of course, the owner is then required to correct any reported deficiencies in the smoke alarm.

Enforcement and Penalties for Failure to Comply

Finally, enforcement of the new law will be done on two levels. First, the law provides that building permits for alterations or repairs of $1,000.00 or more on residential properties will not be signed off by the permit issuing agency until the property owner demonstrates that all smoke alarms installed in the unit are on the State Fire Marshal’s list of approved devices. Second, landlords who fail to comply with the law will be charged with an infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of two hundred dollars ($200) for each offense. However, the law, as amended, also permits the State Fire Marshal to create exceptions to these requirements, or suspend enforcement of the requirements altogether for up to six months if the Fire Marshall determines there is a shortage of suitable alarm systems available to the public. In that situation, the State Fire Marshal will notify the public by posting their decision on their website at http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/.

Coming in 2016

Something to consider is another change in law regarding smoke alarms, set to go into effect on January 1, 2016. As of that date, owners of residential rental units will be required to install additional smoke alarms, as needed, to comply with then current building standards. And, while existing alarms will not need to be replaced unless they are inoperable, the law as drafted will require owners to verify with the state and local government agencies that placement of the alarms is correct, thereby prohibiting a new tenant from taking occupancy until it is established that the devices are in compliance with the newest code requirement. It is interesting to note that this requirement is somewhat unique in that other laws which have mandated retrofit requirements have never before prohibited an owner from renting their unit until it has been upgraded or verified to be in compliance with the law or a local code. The times, they are changing.

Concluding Comments

In the end, the new laws can be summarized as follows: as of January 1, 2014, owners are required to ensure that all residential rental units have operable smoke alarms installed at the beginning of each new tenancy. Additionally, owners are required to inspect and maintain the devices in all residential rental units and each smoke alarm installed must be on the State Fire Marshal’s list of approved devices. In order to install, inspect, and maintain the device, owners are permitted to enter the unit during normal business days and hours, provided the give the tenant written notice at least 24 hours in advance. Failure by the owner to comply with any part of the law is an infraction that can result in a fine of $200.00 per violation.

The foregoing information is presented and intended to address the topic(s) covered above in a general nature. Specific situations and their facts should be presented to your attorney for review. The Brennan Law Firm is one of the fastest growing and most experienced landlord-tenant law firms in Southern California, representing landlords exclusively in evictions, negotiations, and judgment enforcement. Mr.

Brennan may be reached at (626)294-0500, or toll free at (855)285-2230. Visit our website at www.MBrennanLaw.com for more information.

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