Thomas Jervis comments on the new regulations for Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Parliament has passed new Regulations placing positive obligations on landlords to fit smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in all private sector rented accommodation.

Under the new Regulations, which came into force on 1 October 2015, landlords must ensure that smoke alarms are fitted in all areas used as living accommodation. A further duty is placed on landlords to ensure that CO alarms are placed in all rooms containing a solid fuel burning combustion appliance.

The Regulations apply to both existing and new tenancies, and provide an obligation on the landlord to ensure that each alarm is in proper working order at the start of any new tenancy.

If a landlord is in breach of the Regulations, the Local Authority can issue a remedial notice requiring the landlord to fit the alarms within 28 day. If the landlord fails to fit the alarms, and does not take all reasonable steps to do so, the Local Authority can arrange for their fitting and serve a penalty notice on the landlord for a sum of up to £5,000.

How are the changes positive?

Smoke alarms are life saving devices. A person is four times more likely to die during a house fire where there is no working smoke alarm.

Therefore, it is common sense that landlords should be required by law to install working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Such alarms are cheap and easy to install, and there is no excuse for landlords not affording proper protection for their tenants against the various risks in the home.

The legislation also seeks to address a worrying trend in private sector rental housing, with smoke alarm coverage the lowest of any housing type. Statistics also show the risk of carbon monoxide related incidents occurring in private rentals is three times greater than for other housing types.

Any measures that help advocate consumer safety must be a step in the right direction.  It is certainly positive to see these issues on the parliamentary radar.

The legislation is crucial in the context of worrying statistics regarding the various fire risks within the home. Which? recently discovered via a freedom of information request that nearly 12,000 fires in the United Kingdom were caused by faulty appliances between 2011 and March 2014. In my view, consumer safety should always be the paramount concern, and in addition to these changes, it is important that goods manufacturers are not slow to take action and recall products which are found to be unsafe.

Does the legislation go far enough?

Despite it being a step in the right direction, in my view, this legislation is far from perfect. The government announced the legislation in March 2015, and it has gone through Parliament at breakneck speed. However, it is apparent that the legislation does not go far enough in addressing the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The legislation has already faced criticism, with the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) pointing out that landlords will only be required to install CO alarms in rooms with solid fuel burning appliances, for example coal fires or wood burners. Such homes only constitute 8.2% of the entire private rental sector.

It is therefore sensible to conclude that the legislation simply does not place enough pressure on landlords to protect against other potential causes of carbon monoxide poisoning. This legislation only takes effect in England, with other countries within the UK leading the way. For example, in Scotland, landlords will be required to install a CO alarm in all properties with any type of fuel-burning appliance from December, and this seems a more sensible approach in addressing the dangers of carbon monoxide. We would encourage Parliament to bring the requirements of landlords in line with Scotland to provide equal protection across the UK.

The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can be devastating. We currently represent the families of two young men who died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning arising from the operation of a gas cooker. It is important that all possible measures are in place to prevent further tragedies occurring as a result of potentially lethal appliances.

Further questions also need to be raised as to whether the legislation is punitive enough. Is the threat of a maximum £5,000 fine enough to force the private landlord sector into preventative action?  I would also query the plausibility of various Trading Standards authorities actually being in a position to properly enforce this legislation given the widespread funding problems they face. 

Leading consumer campaigner Lynn Faulds Wood has been leading a review of the UK’s system for the recall of unsafe products.  With the results of her review due out shortly, we must not forget that there is a responsibility on industry and government to try to minimise the risks of fire and CO exposure to consumers wherever possible.