As a rental property owner, part of your duties is to ensure smoke detectors on your properties work and abide by Maryland’s laws. Otherwise, you could be liable for fire-related property damages, injuries, and deaths. As of January 2018, Maryland has an updated Smoke Alarm Law you must obey as a property owner in the PG County, AA County, Montgomery County, and Howard County areas. It’s important to make sure you understand the facts and expectations of the law, so you can keep your tenants safe and avoid legal responsibility for fires.
U.S. and Maryland Fire Statistics
Fires take thousands of lives in the U.S. every year, with home structural fires being some of the most common. In 2016, residential building fires took 2,775 lives, caused 11,025 injuries, and resulted in a total financial loss of $5,726,300,000, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The most common causes of residential fires are cooking, heating, negligence, and electrical malfunction. However, with working smoke alarms, many of these injuries and deaths could have been prevented and the risk of fatal home fires could be cut in half. Further statistics to know are as follows:
- U.S. fire departments respond to a home fire every 86 seconds, on average.
- An average of 358,500 residential structure fires occur every year.
- Almost 30% of fires in the U.S. are residential. The majority (42.8%) occur outside.
- More men suffer fatal and nonfatal injuries in fires than women do.
- The state of Maryland reported 56 fires and 68 related deaths in 2016. This was about an 8% increase from fire deaths the previous year.
- Fall and winter see the most residential building fires, injuries, and deaths. In Maryland, about 75% of fire fatalities occurred from October to March.
- December was the deadliest month for Maryland fire deaths, with 13 fatalities in 11 fires.
- In 2016, 11 people died in Prince George’s County fires.
- Anne Arundel County had two fire deaths in 2016 – 10 fewer deaths than the previous year. Firefighters found no smoke alarms in the home where the conflagration occurred.
- Six people died in Montgomery County fires in 2016. Four deaths arose from a natural gas explosion.
- One person passed away in a fire in Howard County in 2016.
- Electrical malfunction fires took the most lives out of other types of fires in Maryland.
- Twelve children under the age of 18 passed away in Maryland fires – about 18% of total fire-related deaths.
Smoke detectors are integral in the prevention of serious fire injuries. They detect the presence of smoke during the early stages of a fire and send out an audible alarm to notify occupants. A properly working smoke detector will issue a signal in time for occupants to exit the home or building in time to avoid fatal injuries. Unfortunately, hundreds of homes in Maryland have outdated smoke detectors or dead batteries, but with the new state law, it aims to remedy this and increase the safety of residents.
Premises Liability Laws in Maryland
As a residential building owner and landlord of rental properties, it is your legal duty to reasonably prevent accidents that may injure tenants. State premises liability laws hold you to high standards in terms of what you must do to keep renters free from harm. These duties include searching for unknown hazards on your property (e.g. a smoke alarm with a dead battery), repairing defects you discover in a timely manner, and warning tenants about potential hazards on the property that may not be obvious to them.
Part of your legal duties as a property owner is to keep up with smoke detector maintenance and repairs. Most fire-related deaths in Maryland occurred in the late night and early morning hours of the day, when occupants were sleeping. Working smoke alarms can often prevent these deaths by successfully awakening occupants before the fire becomes deadly. If you fail in these duties, making your property unreasonably dangerous for visitors or tenants, the Maryland civil courts could find you legally and financially liable for victims’ injuries, deaths, and damages. Not to mention, the mental toll an accident like this could have on you. If there’s a death because batteries in the smoke detector hadn’t been changed, that’s something you’ll have to live with.
A premises liability lawsuit against you for breaching Maryland’s smoke alarm or other safety-related laws could force your homeowner’s insurance company to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims and their families after a harmful fire. You could face higher insurance premiums, a damaged reputation as a landlord, and significant out-of-pocket expenses in legal fees and court costs. The best way to keep your tenants safe and to avoid legal accountability for fire-related injuries is by learning and following the state’s smoke alarm laws.
The 2013 Maryland Smoke Alarm Law
To better protect the safety of Maryland residents from structural fires, lawmakers introduced a new Residential Smoke Alarm Law back in 2013. This law mandated several changes residents must make to smoke detectors, with a January 1, 2018 deadline. The original law held that each sleeping area in a residential occupancy must have at least one approved smoke detector that senses particles of combustion and provides an alarm that warns occupants. The law also held that landowners must install the detectors in an approved manner and location.
It is a landlord’s duty to purchase and install appropriate smoke detectors, as required by the 2013 Smoke Alarm Law. It is also a landlord’s duty to repair or replace broken detectors upon written notification from a tenant. Tenants may not remove smoke alarms or turn them off. Landlords have the option to require a refundable deposit for a smoke alarm. Installing an automatic fire sprinkler system may replace smoke detectors, as long as the State Fire Prevention Commission approves the swap.
Updates to the Smoke Alarm Law
Smoke detector technologies have changed since the original passing of the 2013 Maryland Smoke Alarm Law. The law has updated to reflect these changes, and to correspond with the International Residential Code and NFPA 72. The goal of the updated law is to transition away from smoke alarms with unreliable 9-volt batteries, to better serve residents with consistent coverage. Smoke detectors should contain the most reliable technology available. The stipulations for landlords under the new law are as follows:
- Landlords must replace battery-only operated smoke detectors with sealed 10-year lithium-ion battery detectors with silent or hush features. These newer systems provide consistent coverage for one decade, without the need for battery removal or replacement. It gives an alert after 10 years to replace the unit.
- Landlords must replace smoke detectors after 10 years. The date of manufacture should be on the back of the smoke detector. It is against the law to replace a hard-wired smoke alarm with a battery-only one. Installing a lithium-ion battery-powered detector is only appropriate in places where the existing smoke alarm is battery-operated, not hard-wired.
- Landlords must install approved smoke detectors in every bedroom, common areas outside of bedrooms, and on every level of multi-level units in Maryland. All smoke detectors must interconnect with one another to alert all occupants in a unit of a fire. The type of detector approved varies according to the build date of the property.
- If you own a building built prior to July 1, 1975 or between July 1, 1975 and January 1, 1989, you must upgrade all smoke alarms to approved detectors on every level of the home if the existing alarms are more than 10 years old, malfunctioning, or during a change in residency. Smoke alarms should be hard-wired units, except in places where there was previously no alarm (in which case you may install long-life battery alarms).
- You must replace smoke alarms in buildings constructed after January 1, 1989 10 years from the data of manufacture. New alarms must interconnect, use AC power, and come with battery back-up systems. Battery backups must use 10-year lithium-ion batteries for long life.
The updated Maryland Smoke Alarm Law stipulates specific requirements for landlords who own one- and two-dwelling rental units. According to the law, landlords must upgrade battery-operated smoke detectors to 10-year sealed battery alarms either when the unit has a change in occupancy, when existing systems are 10 years old, or when they malfunction (whichever comes first). If you own a building with more than two dwellings, it is up to your tenants to test smoke alarms and notify you of malfunctions. Upon notification of an issue from a tenant, the new law requires you to repair or replace the broken smoke detectors as soon as reasonably possible.
How a Rental Property Management Company Can Help
It is vital to comply with Maryland’s new Smoke Alarm Law as the owner of a rental property in PG County, AA County, Montgomery County, and Howard County. Otherwise, your tenants could suffer serious or fatal injuries in a building fire – injuries connected to your neglect to install, repair, or replace noncompliant smoke detectors. Don’t risk the lives of your tenants. Stay on the right side of Maryland’s smoke alarm and premises liability laws by hiring a rental property management company like Bay Property Management Group. By hiring a professional, they can handle codes compliance on your behalf and proactively assist you with smoke alarm and other property law fulfillment in Maryland. Sounds like a win-win, right? Contact BMG today to get started.
2018 Smoke Alarm Laws Maryland